So I was listening to a friend’s podcast segment on whether or not coaches are as important in the NHL as they are in other sports. Things like line matching and combinations came up, and it got me thinking.
Imagine you were the coach of the Penguins. What if in real life you could “turn off” line changes and fatigue? If you could put all your stock into 5 current players and a goalie and let it ride, who would you choose? Explanations will include what I like about each player, and also why I chose them over others. Here’s the team’s picks.
Josh Boulton- @ToughCallBlog
Sidney Crosby – Who wouldn’t? He does everything.
Carl Hagelin – He’s got a unique type of controlled killer instinct. He scores timely goals. He’s not afraid to take a shot at somebody but he doesn’t let it distract him off his game like say Malkin does. And he doesn’t usually end up in the penalty box either. Also, he’s got good enough hockey sense to be able to play with Sid and be a secondary setup man.
Phil Kessel – He’s a streaky scorer but when he’s on, he’s on. As a bonus, his passing game is off the charts as well so he’d almost never be at a point where he’s not contributing. Plus, his offensive game to defensive game ratio is much closer than most of the other offensively gifted talents league wide. He’ll help almost all the time, and hurt you even less.
Kris Letang – Moving on.
Trevor Daley – He’s maybe not as explosive as a couple of the others, but he’s definitely to me the most consistent and safe. You don’t notice him as much because he doesn’t make the same types of glaring mistakes. He’s skilled enough to handle power play time, quick enough to jump up periodically, and is positionally smart enough to buy Letang enough time to get back.
Marc-Andre Fleury – He’s seen enough success to know he can still be the man. He’s seen enough heartbreak (such as World Juniors, or that fateful Philly series) to know he can persevere through the tough times. For these reasons I think mentally in a no line change situation where it’s all you with no safety net, Fleury is your guy.
Do you agree? If not, who would you scratch and for who?
Sidney Mahan- @PuckSniper3
Sidney Crosby – for playmaking skills and 200-ft game.
Phil Kessel – playmaking, goal-scoring, fierce backchecking.
Patric Hornqvist – power forward, grinder, physicality.
Kris Letang – solid defensive leadership but also offensive contribution.
Brian Dumoulin – consistency, responsible puck play and positioning, excellent matchup against players like Ovechkin.
Matt Murray – solid positioning, responsible puck play, good at rebound control.
Brad Franjione- @FranjiPensPress
RW – Patric Hornqvist
I admit, it was tough not to put Kessel here, but Hornqvist takes the cake for me. Hornqvist plays with so much passion and energy, and it is just so contagious. He will block shots in the defensive zone, but also grind in the offensive zone, fight for loose pucks, and will always go to the front of the net regardless of the cost. Hornqvist is arguably the best net-front presence in hockey. This guy already doesn’t have an off switch. Could you imagine him if he actually didn’t have an off switch? My goodness.
C – Sidney Crosby
Do you even need my explanation? Best in the world.
LW – Conor Sheary
This may be a wild card pick but let me explain: Sheary may be small, but my goodness can he skate. He has some legitimate speed that not a lot of defenders in this league can keep up with. Despite his size, Sheary has terrific strength on the puck and also has great chemistry with Sid. If Sheary continues to play with Crosby for most of the year, don’t put it out of the question for Sheary to put up 50+ points (8 points through 8 games so far this season).
D – Kris Letang
Again, do you need my explanation? I think Letang is extremely underrated. The general public regards him as a pretty good defenseman and all, but I truly believe that he is a top 5 guy across the whole NHL. Letang can both quarterback a powerplay as well as be an effective penalty killer, which gives him a big advantage over other guys. When he is at the top of his game, look out NHL.
D – Trevor Daley
I was between Dumoulin and Daley for the final spot but I decided to go with Daley. I feel as though both guys are effective defensively, but Daley has more offensive upside than Dumoulin does. Although I would go with Daley, I would not be opposed to Dumoulin getting a nod with Letang.
G – Matt Murray
In his last 11 regular season starts with the Penguins, Matt Murray is 11-0 with a 1.82 GAA and a .938 save percentage. In addition, the Penguins have averaged 4.73 goals for per game in these 11 games. I still think Fleury is great, but if I had to go with 1 goalie to start every game for an entire season, I think Murray would give more consistent numbers. Plus, for some reason, the Penguins tend to play better in front of Murray, and you can’t doubt the evidence stated above.
Wyatt Fiedler- @ItIsntFehr
Center: Sidney Crosby
It goes without saying, really. Sidney Crosby is the greatest forward in the NHL right now, and is continuing to make his climb to the top of the all-time list. Crosby is second in time on ice among forwards behind only Evgeni Malkin, averaging about 18 minutes and 23 seconds this season. He is used to being counted on for very long spurts of time, regularly being double-shifted either by the head coach’s or his choice in very key moments of games.Two Stanley Cup wins definitely proves that he is both reliable and a leader. Crosby makes everyone on the ice better, just look at Chris Kunitz’ stats the past few years.
Playing an entire game with one center, you need a player that is not only consistent in the face off dot, but a player that can create scoring chances off of those faceoffs. Crosby throughout his career, according to NHL.com, has won 51.6 percent of his faceoffs. That puts him in second among current Penguins players. You may recall a particular playoff game against the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final that went into overtime. Before an offensive zone faceoff, Crosby could be seen going around and his teammates on the ice what the plan was. Crosby would then win that faceoff, and before anybody knew it the puck was in the back of the net. This particular play would spur Sharks’ Logan Couture to accuse Crosby of cheating on faceoffs.
Left Wing: Carl Hagelin
Speed. Carl Hagelin is fast. Hagelin is without a doubt the fastest player on the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he can just blow by any defenseman in the NHL. Not only can he skate, but he can put the puck away, too.
Hagelin was an impactful pick-up for the Penguins towards the end of their struggles in the 2015/16 season. After struggling in Anaheim he came to Pittsburgh and found a home here in Pittsburgh. He became a part of the famous HBK line that dominated throughout the journey to the Stanley Cup. Hagelin’s speed alone is good enough to get him on this roster, everything thing else is just a sweet added bonus.
Right Wing: Phil Kessel
“How’s your breath Phil?”
Phil Kessel almost didn’t make my roster entirely due to the fact that he can easily get tired. Since that factor has been eliminated, he is a lock at the right wing position. Like Hagelin and Crosby, he is fast. To most people’s surprise, he out-skated Tyler Seguin in the Skills Competition fastest skater contest. Though, skating isn’t the most notable part of his game.
There are few players that have a wrist shot as deadly as Kessel’s. A release like his is so hard to come by throughout the league, and it can catch the best of goalies off guard. The shot his so hard to read as well. You could think he was going left glove side and he will end up going five hole. The shot comes off so fast there isn’t any time to react to the shot.
Defensemen: Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin
Kris Letang set a team record for time on ice last year, and is the Penguins go-to guy to quarterback the powerplay. Letang has the desirable ability to play at an elite level at both ends of the ice. He has earned a reputation that puts him among the top defensemen in the NHL. Since the turn of the decade, he has lead Penguins defenseman in both total pointsand points per game. Letang is solid defensively and has always been reliable and is a lock to be on the roster.
Brian Dumoulin has turned into a great top two guy for the Penguins. He has picked up his game defensively and offensively. His advanced numbers show that he performs well as a top defenseman possession wise and he generates offense with the best of them. His ability to defend the zone and willingness to allow Letang to play like he does earns him a spot on the roster.
Goalie: Matt Murray
While both goaltenders on the Penguins would fare well in this situation, I like Matt Murray better. Murray went on incredible run with the Penguins, winning 15 games on his way to a Stanley Cup win in his rookie season. Now in his second year, he has been splitting starts with veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Murray’s future is luminous and his present is bright.
So far this season he is undefeated with 4 wins. Though the stat is looked down on, a 1.25 goals against average is nothing to blow past. He is incredible at bailing out a Penguins’ defense that has consistently left goaltenders out to dry, but he always comes up big. In a situation that can allow for some mistakes to be made, I count on Murray to be the big last line of defense this team needs.