We here at “Let’s Talk Pens” have the honor of hosting the “Pens 7/7 Collaboration” on day’s 2 and 5 of this collaboration. Today, Pens Army, Puck Sniper and I talk about the surprises and disappointments of the season.
SURPRISE: Olli Maatta
Olli Maatta has had clear potential for quite a while, so he’s not necessarily a surprise for the Penguins because no one thought he was good – that just isn’t the case. Maatta’s talent is no secret. The problem was that the young defenseman has had several rough patches over the past few years. The last couple of seasons, despite ending twice in Stanley Cup runs, had not been overly pleasant for Maatta in other areas. The 23-year-old blueliner missed 109 games over the three seasons prior to his 2017-18 season, struggling mightily to stay healthy enough to fulfill as big a role on the Penguins defense as everyone would have hoped. That considered, it’s easy to see why this season, even at the surface, was a huge improvement for Maatta – he played in all 82 regular season games for Pittsburgh. Not only did Maatta find himself back in a solid, consistent spot in the lineup, but he was effective with a renewed role as well. He tied his career high for a season point total with 29, as well as career highs for shots (164), power play points (8), and hits (131). Setting that personal record in hits is a surprise in itself, considering that physicality hasn’t had much of a visible presence in Maatta’s game in the past. Despite the overall team struggles the Penguins carried into a playoff run that ended in the second round, and Maatta cooling off offensively from his regular season run – he only managed to add two assists in the twelve playoff games the Penguins played this year – he was stellar defensively in the postseason, as he was impressively on the ice for only two even-strength goals against. That marks a pleasant surprise for the Penguins and their supporters, considering the number of times over the last few seasons that Maatta’s been vilified for losing defensive battles positionally (such as getting visibly outraced by Bobby Ryan en route to Ryan’s overtime goal in Game 1 of last year’s Eastern Conference Final).
While Maatta’s threshold for points will likely remain no higher than about 30, this last campaign spells optimism for him and his team, and gives people reason to believe that he can post more solid seasons in the future.
DISAPPOINTMENT: Derick Brassard
Brassard was – or was at least pegged to be – the Penguins’ big pickup heading into the postseason. The 30-year-old center came to Pittsburgh from Ottawa at the trade deadline with a solid track record and a few stellar playoff performances – some of the most memorable of them being against the Penguins in the past – to boot. He wasn’t bad in the dying stages of the regular season, posting eight points in 14 games before the playoffs. However, the postseason – which was supposed to be a spark for “Big Game Brass” – seemed more like the opposite, with Brassard adding only four points in 12 games (including only one in the second round) and being largely a non-factor through the playoffs. Brassard wasn’t the worst player on the Penguins, nor can he be taking a large chunk of blame for Pittsburgh’s premature exit when most of the Penguins’ forwards underperformed. He was quietly solid in the faceoff circle, for one. However, that’s exactly the problem – Brassard was quiet, and it came at the worst possible time for the Penguins. Apart from the first line, where Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel were notching points at torrid, literally historic paces, the Penguins didn’t get too much consistent scoring from other sources, and the unexpected invisibility from Brassard did the Pens no favors. Particularly considering how he’s historically proven to be a clutch performer, it’s difficult to find many people who expected Brassard to be so silent. He saw drops in ice time as a result, too.
Heading forward into the new season, it will be interesting to see whether Brassard can take advantage of any opportunity he gets from the Penguins to be a full-time third line center (which, on a team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, is a bigger role than other third-line centers on most other teams) – a role that Riley Sheahan, who had a solid season, will be eyeing, or even whether the Penguins explore playing Brassard at wing. Whatever the case, it’s not necessarily time to panic on Brassard yet – after all, according to Mike Sullivan and Jim Rutherford, Brassard, like a few other players on the Penguins, was hampered by an undisclosed injury through the playoffs, which was likely a factor. The sophomore season of Brassard’s Penguins career will more likely be better than worse, especially considering that he’s already shown flashes of consistent scoring in Pittsburgh – Brassard posted a six-game point streak in mid-March until an injury on March 27 sidelined him for the last five games of the regular season, and it was that same injury that appeared to deteriorate his play from his return in the playoffs. Despite the disappointing end to the season from Brassard, expect the 10-year-veteran – who has already declared that he’s aware of his downhill slide and is ready to do what he can to rectify it – to be more of a factor for the Penguins next season, and much more visible in the ways he’s proven to be in the past.
This season has been full of ups and downs. We saw a lot from our Pittsburgh Penguins. I think the boys gave their best even if it didn’t end their way.
This year, some players surprised me with their great performances and/or production on the scoresheet. However, few others have been disappointments for me.
My surprise this year is Jamie Oleksiak.
The 6’7″, left handed defenseman was with the Dallas Stars before GM Jim Rutherford traded a conditional fourth-round pick in 2019 for him (happened on December 19th 2017).
Oleksiak played 47 games this season with the Pens (4G, 10A, 14PTS). He also scored a goal in 12 playoffs games this year. He was most of his time on the third pairing and did a solid job no matter who he was playing with, or who he was playing against.
He knew his role. He isn’t afraid to shoot the puck and join the attack. He’s also a big guy who can fight.
I knew who he was and how good he could be for a team like Pittsburgh, but he’s been way better in Sullivan’s system than I thought he would be. He’s a big, strong guy and he still did a great job in a system focused on speed. Also, he gave GM Jim Rutherford some confidence. Pittsburgh’s blue line was “O.K.” and with Jamie Oleksiak’s performances, I think it convinced GMJR that it wasn’t necessary to trade for another defenseman before the trade deadline.
On the other side, my disappointment is Kris Letang.
Believe me I love Tanger and will always support him no matter what, but this year has been a year to forget for the elite defenseman.
It’s always hard to comeback from an injury, so it’s only harder when you miss half a year because of a neck surgery.
It didn’t help Letang’s situation, that’s for sure. However, I think that Letang could have got back on track during the year and it didn’t happen.
At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t expecting much from him. I knew it would take some time to see him find his game.
What I am disappointed about is that we didn’t see any sign of improvement in his game after a couple of months.
Also, this year’s playoffs were just bad for him. He was not doing “Tanger things”. He made some brutal mistakes during the series against the Capitals and he was the first one to blame himself about it.
For sure, he was not the only one who made errors in that series. I am not saying that we lost because of him, believe me… But our best defenseman, especially in the playoffs, has to play like our best defenseman.
I know he’ll bounce back.
The Penguins were full of surprises and disappointments. It could be said losing the Stanley Cup falls under both of those categories. I will list a player from each category, on e a surprise and the other a disappointment.
My big surprise on the year is the uprising of Brian Dumoulin.
I have always been a big Dumo guy but he legitimately blossomed into a top of the line defensive defenseman in 2017-18′ all the while adding career high offensive totals. His five goals and 18 points were well above what anyone had been expecting out of the big defenseman. He has made his name in Pittsburgh by playing sound on the Penguins’ blue line. He was able to change that narrative a bit this time around.
Dumoulin also may have been the Penguins best and most consistent playoff performer on the blue line. He took huge strides this year and proved he is worth his contract.
My biggest disappointment had to be the play of goaltender Matt Murray.
Now, hear me out. I know he had the death of his father and the injuries that hurt his consistent playing time so it’s hard to be disappointed. When you consider the lofty preseason expectations on Murray, that’s more of what was disappointing. His numbers were far below what he typically puts up.
A 2,92 GAA and a .907 SV% are upsetting for someone who had done so well the previous two seasons.
He is only 24 and will be for most of next season so he’s only getting better and I expect a big time reversal next season for the young man.
TOMORROW, we’re looking at how the addition of Daniel Sprong into next season’s lineup changes the dynamic and the actual make up of the lineup.