Here we are beating the proverbial dead horse, but there’s a major issue with the Penguins right now. You can blame it on several things, but there is one major thing that has changed from the time the Penguins lifted Lord Stanley in Nashville to the beginning of the 2017-2018 season: scoring depth.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, a lack of scoring depth has the largest ripple effect on a team, especially in today’s NHL, where it’s already hard enough to score goals. Pittsburgh had more subtractions than additions in the offseason, and on top of that, the subtractions were vital pieces while the additions were no more than role-player pieces.
The Penguins’ biggest acquisition of the offseason was Ryan Reaves, and sure, we had a lot of fun in those first couple of games when he was playing the part of goon that he’s known for. That breath of fresh air however, has turned into a foul stench that won’t go away.
There isn’t much argument against how much of an anchor Reaves has been. And no, that isn’t a good anchor. It’s the type that weighs you down and restricts you from moving forward. He has three points in 35 games played and a whopping 75 penalty minutes. The second-highest on the team is Sidney Crosby with 32.
It’s unclear still why Jim Rutherford traded for the enforcer when the Penguins had won back-to-back Stanley Cups without one in the lineup. This leads to my point:
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The Penguins were rolling out four lines in the past two seasons capable of putting the puck in the net. Now granted, it was going to be impossible to keep the 2016-2017 team intact like the Penguins did the previous year. Contracts expired for guys like Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen, two very important pieces to the puzzle, and it was going to be too expensive to bring them back.
Now, it’s unclear what it would have cost, but the goal of the offseason should have been to bring in a third line center. Rutherford did bring in Riley Sheahan after the season started once Detroit’s asking price went down. However, there’s no denying that the duo of Sheahan and Carter Rowney as the third and fourth line centers doesn’t compare to Bonino and Cullen.
Does this mean Rutherford should’ve just pulled the trigger for Matt Duchene? Not necessarily, but the drop off of scoring ability on the bottom two lines has shown so far in 2017. It’s hard to question Rutherford after back to back Stanley Cups, but the identity of this team is different from the past two seasons and it’s showing on the ice and in the standings.
Now, the lack of scoring depth isn’t the only issue with the Penguins this season, but as stated before, the ripple effect of it is huge. It affects the top two lines’ ability to produce and puts more pressure on the defense.
We will probably see Ian Cole get traded by the deadline, and maybe the return will bring more scoring depth on the bottom two lines. The season sure isn’t over yet. It’s only December, and we’ve seen the Penguins come back from much worse in previous seasons. We’ll see what Rutherford can do to give this team a boost as they prepare for the calendar to turn.