Grading Each Player on the Pittsburgh Penguins Playoff Roster
After failing to secure a 3-1 series lead thanks to another comeback by the Jackets, the Pens took the lead Saturday night after a solid effort by each of the club's members.
The Penguins had their ups and downs throughout the series, but they rallied and now look to roll on to the second round with a win.
Before Monday night’s matchup between the Metropolitan division rivals, I wanted to take a look at each Penguin and grade them on how they have done so far in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Along with how well they have done recently, I used past playoff performances as well to provide some speculation going forward.
The Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury could not expel his critics after an atrocious performance in the third and overtime periods of Wednesday night’s game against the Blue Jackets.
After mishandling the puck with 22.5 seconds left in regulation of Game 4, Fleury’s gaffe gave the Jackets' Brandon Dubinsky a wide open net to send the game into the third overtime of the series. This came after allowing three straight goals after his team gave him a comfortable lead early in the game.
Fleury had a solid regular season, posting a GAA of 2.37 and a save percentage of .915. However, as past postseason performances have shown, the Flower has a tendency to wilt.
Through five games, he has a save percentage of .911 and a GAA of 2.78. He has shown flashes of excellence in each of the series’ games, but that will never be enough, even if he plays behind one of the most stacked teams in the NHL.
Recently, he silenced his critics in his win in Game 5, stopping 23 of 24 shots. The spotlight will be on the Pens’ netminder until he is capable of proving he can be a consistent goaltender when it matters the most.
The team captain and league leader in points (104) has offered up five assists for his club so far, but besides that, fans haven’t seen a whole lot of action from the Kid. His plus/minus rating of minus-three hasn’t really given his team much to work with either.
Sidney Crosby is one of the core players general manager Ray Shero has built this club around. Like the rest of the Penguins’ core players, a number of expectations are put on his shoulders.
What Crosby needs to do to finish off the Blue Jackets is find a way that puts the spotlight on him. He can start by ending his 10-game goal drought. He is the heart of this organization, and the best way to prove that is by carrying this team into the second round.
Thirty-four-year-old left wing and alternate captain Chris Kunitz has had a great postseason so far, posting two goals and two assists for four points in the first-round series.
Kunitz is one of the many Penguins players that brings a level of experience with them into the Stanley Cup playoffs. He played in 13 games while with the Anaheim Ducks in their 2007 postseason run for the Cup and was a part of the Pens’ championship victory in 2009 in which he saw time in all 24 games.
Kunitz is a valuable veteran who can provide guidance to the many younger guys on the roster. That is why head coach Dan Bylsma gave him the "A."
Though winger Beau Bennett saw five games less this year than last year in the regular season, he has played in all five playoff games so far and has made a solid impact. Currently, the 22-year-old has a goal and three assists though the series, tagging alongside Brandon Sutter and veteran Joe Vitale on the third line.
Bennett began the first period of Game 1 against the Blue Jackets on the top line of the Pens, but Bylsma had other ideas and shifted him to his current spot.
Bennett calmly stated to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette's Shelly Anderson that he was fine with his coach's decision to move him.
“It’s not tough,” Bennett said. “Honestly, in the playoffs, you leave your ego at the door. Whatever happens, you’re trying to get 16 wins. That’s the end goal.”
That is a great mentality to have and is rarely seen in younger athletes.
Acquired at the 2013 trade deadline last season, Jussi Jokinen has been a big part of the Penguins’ success. In his second year in the Steel City, the 31-year-old Finn has had only his second 20-plus-goal season.
Through five games in the playoffs, he has lit the lamp three times and has an assist for four points.
Jokinen has made himself comfortable on the second line with Neal and Malkin, which could easily be considered a top line on any other club in the league. What makes him so special is that he plays like he has been on this team since it was rebuilding. The chemistry the second line brings to the table makes it one of the fiercest in the league.
Evgeni Malkin mirrors his captain in many ways, as seen this postseason. First, both have only been able to contribute assists while they are expected to do much more. Secondly, Jackets coach Todd Richards has been able to shut them both down in the first few games.
Before Game 5, Bylsma wanted to pair the two on the first line. Although they didn’t start the game with each other, Malkin, Crosby and Kunitz helped set the tone for the matchup by generating 14 shots.
It is unclear whether or not Bylsma will stick with this line come Monday night, but fans can expect Malkin to be an instrumental piece no matter where he plays. Having the captain and his two alternates on the same line will no doubt be electrifying.
Remember when I talked about that core group of players that defined the Pens? James Neal is one of them, and he hasn’t produced much at all, aside from a single goal in Game 4. With only one point, the ex-Dallas Star has to make a statement whether Monday night or in the second round, if there is one.
Last postseason, Neal had six goals and four assists in 13 games. Granted it has only been five games, and as we know, anything can happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Fans may get worried, however, if he doesn’t start producing soon.
He will have to do that while working with a new teammate on his line if Bylsma decides to keep Malkin with the first group. Hopefully, a new change of scenery will benefit Neal in the long haul if they can squeeze by the Jackets.
Tanner Glass does what Tanner Glass does best and that is getting in the mind of his opposition. The fourth-line winger is very versatile, but his main job, especially in the postseason, is to be the goon.
Glass had four goals and nine assists in the regular season, but through five playoff games, he has failed to record a single point.
The Pens bottom line, which consists of Glass, Craig Adams and Marcel Goc, have combined for a single goal and assist with both of them coming from Adams.
Centering the third line with Bennett and Vitale, Sutter has been playing well in only his second NHL postseason. Two goals and two assists and a plus/minus of plus-five by the young forward have really made their line garner some attention.
Last season, he played in all of the Penguins’ 15 postseason games, tallying two goals and an assist, which he already surpassed through five games this year.
This postseason could definitely be a defining moment for the 25-year-old so he will be an interesting player to pay attention to.
Along with Goc, Lee Stempniak was a trade-deadline acquisition that has proven to be a great move on Shero’s part.
With Bylsma’s decision to switch up the lines in Game 5, it will be interesting to see where he finds himself Monday.
Stempniak has only seen action in the postseason twice before this year. With the Phoenix Coyotes, he played in a combined 11 playoff matchups over two years, posting only two assists.
So far with the Penguins, he has been able to knot an assist and a crucial goal that helped his club tie the Jackets in Game 3, which they would eventually go on to win.
Shero brought in Goc from the Florida Panthers for depth and experience. It is hard to grade his postseason performance because he has only played in the most recent matchup, due to a foot injury in late March.
Because of this injury, we really haven’t gotten a good look at Goc in a black and gold sweater.
The only thing we know for sure is that he has a tremendous amount of postseason experience, which is always a plus. This is his eighth career playoff stint with four separate teams.
Vitale has taken the job of tutoring Sutter and Bennett on how to handle playoff hockey. Though he hasn’t produced at all in the points column, he has played in all five games so far, which means Bylsma has some sort of job for him. Compare this to his past two postseason appearances in which he has played in only 10 combined games.
In his playoff career, Vitale has a single assist, which isn’t a good argument when talking about experience, but I guess you could say at least he has been there.
Vitale is a guy that does whatever the coach asks of him so expect him to focus on handling the little things for the rest of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run.
Adams gets an “A” because he has performed to an exceptional degree at his position.
The 37-year-old winger is a workhorse who played in all 82 regular-season games, and so far, he has a goal, an assist and a plus/minus of plus-two through five playoff games.
He will do whatever it takes to sip from the Cup at least one more time before he retires. He won his first league championship back in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes and his second with the Pens in 2009.
He is a hungry competitor with a ton of energy even though he is in the dog days of his career.
Top defenseman Brooks Orpik has been playing smart and tough this playoff series, leading the rest of the Pens defense with nine hits while accumulating a goal, an assist and a plus-five rating.
His buzzer-beater in the second period of Game 3 was the rallying point that helped lead the Penguins to their second win of the series against the Jackets.
Strange news came out before Game 5 that stated Orpik had been scratched from the lineup due to an undisclosed injury. While it is still unknown whether he will be in the lineup for Monday’s Game 6, having a gritty and smart defenseman like Orpik is always appreciated.
Orpik’s linemate, Paul Martin, has been on fire in the assist column this postseason. All eight of his points this series have been apples, which shows he has a special type of chemistry with his forwards.
The 33-year-old Olympian is three points shy of his career high 11 that he tallied last postseason with the Pens.
Martin got a new look in Game 5 playing with Kris Letang on the first defensive line. As I said before, it is still unknown what the defensive lineup will be Monday night due to Orpik’s injury.
Letang didn’t have the hottest start to the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, but Game 5 definitely was an improvement.
Bylsma sent a message to the 2013 Norris Trophy nominee by limiting his playing time after one of his multiple turnovers in Game 1 led to a short-handed goal by the Jackets’ Derek MacKenzie. In the third period, Letang would only see a little under four minutes of playing time.
Come Game 5, Letang played a team-high 24:18 and netted his first goal of the series.
Fans are hoping this was just a sluggish start for their star defenseman and that he will return to his 2009 postseason ways that saw him score five goals along with a couple of assists.
Rob Scuderi has had four long runs for the Stanley Cup in his career. He played 20 games in 2008 and 24 in 2009 when he won his first Cup with the Penguins. In 2011, he tagged along with the Los Angeles Kings for his second championship when he played in 20 matchups. The year after that he played in 18.
The durability to make the long trek toward the Cup is a great asset that the Pens love to have.
Through the first five meetings, Scuderi has four assists, and at 35, he is doing what needs to be done at his position. That is really all you can ask.
The 19-year-old Finnish defenseman is in his first playoff series and is doing his best to learn the ropes.
Maatta is averaging 16.7 minutes a game and has two assists to show for it. Paired with Matt Niskanen on the third defensive line, the rookie has an amazing opportunity to not just prove himself but to gain the necessary playoff experience. Playoff hockey is so much more physical and grueling than the regular season so it is necessary he uses his time to toughen up.
He gets a “B-“ due to his limited playoff performances.
Twenty-seven-year-old Matt Niskanen had a great regular season, according to the stat book, in which he led the league most of the year in the plus/minus column before finishing sixth at plus-33.
Niskanen gets a high grade for carrying over his outstanding regular-season play to the playoffs. The third-line defenseman scored two goals and racked up four assists for six points, giving him a hot start this postseason.
He is showing Bylsma and the rest of the Pens front office that he is a great individual player rather than one who just looks good because he plays with superstars.