Tag: Patric Hornqvist

Kris Letang

Pittsburgh Penguins ’15-16 Outlook


The Pittsburgh Penguins have two of the league’s best forwards in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but last season they lacked the offensive depth to sufficiently back them up. GM Jim Rutherford is hoping he addressed that issue this summer, but there is still a big X-factor with this team.

Starting with the positives, newcomer Phil Kessel is one of the league’s top goal scorers and pairing him up with a superb playmaker like Crosby should make for a great combination. Combined with Patric Hornqvist, Malkin, David Perron, and Chris Kunitz and the Penguins have the potential to feature two very effective lines. Summer additions Eric Fehr and Nick Bonino will also provide the Penguins with some all-important depth up the middle.

After that though, their bottom-six gets a little hazy.

Theoretically, Pascal Dupuis would be an ideal presence on their third line and wouldn’t look out of place if the Penguins opt to put him in their top-six, but he’s also played in just 55 games over the last two seasons due to a torn ACL and a blood clot. Even if we presume that his health issues are behind him, one has to wonder if the long layoffs have negatively impacted the 36-year-old forward. The Penguins might be penciling Beau Bennett for a third line role as well, but he’s had injury problems too and hasn’t developed as hoped.

Health issues have unfortunately been a running theme for the Penguins.

They’re counting on Kris Letang to anchor their defense, but the 69 games he played last season represented a personal best since 2010-2011. Even Malkin is a question mark at this point, as he’s only surpassed the 70-game mark once since 2008-2009.

Now to be fair, if the biggest knock is “they might get hurt,” then that’s arguably a sign that there are not a lot of issues to begin with.

After all, the Penguins core — when healthy — is among the most impressive in the league. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury can be firmly listed as part of that foundation as well as his performance over the last two campaigns has run contrary to the old narrative that he gets worse under the heightened pressure of the playoffs.

The jury is still out on the Penguins’ depth though and those aforementioned injury problems can’t be casually dismissed. This is a team that has been among the most prone to health problems from 2009-10 onward, according to Man Games Lost.

If that trend ends though, then this should be a very dangerous team.

It’s Pittsburgh Penguins Day at PHT

Sidney Crosby

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Pittsburgh Penguins.

After another disappointing finish in the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins decided to change course by replacing GM Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma with Jim Rutherford and Mike Johnston respectively prior to the start of the 2014-15 campaign. The results, at least as far as last season was concerned, were not desirable.

To be fair, Pittsburgh was strong for much of the campaign and was even in the running for the Presidents’ Trophy through March 12 with a 39-18-10 record. However, they went 4-9-2 for the remainder of the season and they just barely secured the second Wild Card seed. That set up a first round series against the New York Rangers that the Penguins lost in five games.

For a team that’s home to two of the best forwards in the league, the Penguins’ big weakness last season was actually their offense. Years of subpar drafting beyond first round picks and a top-heavy salary balance sheet seemed to finally catch up with the Penguins as they were thin on scoring threats outside of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Chris Kunitz, James Neal, and Jussi Jokinen provided the Penguins with at least 57 points each in 2013-14, but the 35-year-old Kunitz slid to 40 points, Neal had been dealt to Nashville in exchange for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, and Jokinen left as an unrestricted free agent. Consequently, Malkin and Crosby were the only Penguins players to record more than 57 points last season.

Pittsburgh went from being tied for the fifth best offense in 2013-14 to finishing in a tie for 18th just one season later. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had a strong campaign and that continued into the 2015 playoffs, but the Penguins provided him with just eight goals of support over five games against the Rangers.

Off-season recap

Rutherford has moved to bolster the Penguins’ offense over the summer. He brought Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh in a blockbuster trade with Toronto that also involved the Penguins conceding 2014 first round pick Kasperi Kapanen. Nearly a month later, Pittsburgh acquired Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a 2016 second round pick from Vancouver in exchange for Brandon Sutter and a 2016 third round selection.

Pittsburgh further addressed its forward depth with the signings of Eric Fehr (three years, $6 million) and Matt Cullen (one-year, $800K).

Combine that with the return of Pascal Dupuis (blood clots) and Pittsburgh’s group of forwards should look significantly different this season.

Pens’ plan for now: Crosby starts as Kessel’s center

Toronto Maple Leafs v Pittsburgh Penguins

A lot can change between today and training camp, let alone the regular season, but the Pittsburgh Penguins plan on starting Phil Kessel out on Sidney Crosby’s line.

(Head coach Mike Johnston made note that the course could easily be altered.)

Under this setup, Evgeni Malkin would likely center a line including Patric Hornqvist. One would assume that Chris Kunitz would fill out the Crosby – Kessel combo, but again, this is pure speculation in August.

The biggest “loser” of this scenario may just be David Perron, at least if he was bumped down to the third line. Roster Resource’s depth chart really shows how much the Penguins’ roster has changed this off-season.

Back in July, PHT took an early look at the debate regarding pairing Kessel with Crosby or Malkin, pointing to some takes that “Geno” might work better with the sniper than No. 87.

You can find a succinct discussion of that argument from NHL.com’s Dan Rosen:

With Kessel and Malkin on the ice together, there would be constant movement and interplay between two threats able to score on virtually any possession in the attacking zone.

Crosby plays more of a north-south game of direct lines and quick puck movement. Crosby’s linemates have to think the game quickly, react quickly, and be ready in a hurry. He wants his wings to be predictable.

Scoring lines are generally fluid in the modern NHL, yet in late August, it’s fun to get an update like this. Which way would you lean if you were in Johnston’s shoes?

Barring bad injury luck, Kessel should be a happy man in either scenario.

Would Kessel work better with Crosby or Malkin?


Phil Kessel joining the Pittsburgh Penguins inspires some intriguing questions, and one of the most enjoyable ones is: should he line up with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin?

If you’ve followed how the modern NHL works, the most accurate answer is probably the evasive one: “both.”

Head coaches love to juggle combinations, especially early on in a season, so the high-scoring sniper will likely get multiple looks with the two dynamic pivots. Heck, the Penguins could terrify opposing defenses (and penalty kill units) by sending all three out, especially when they need a goal or two.

All of those disclaimers aside, it’s still a pretty fun thing to debate, particularly during the hockey-starved summer.

Interestingly, it seems like quite a few people argue that Kessel might click with Malkin more than Crosby, and the theme of such arguments comes down to meshing styles.

Note this stance from NHL.com’s Dan Rosen:

With Kessel and Malkin on the ice together, there would be constant movement and interplay between two threats able to score on virtually any possession in the attacking zone.

Crosby plays more of a north-south game of direct lines and quick puck movement. Crosby’s linemates have to think the game quickly, react quickly, and be ready in a hurry. He wants his wings to be predictable.

The Hockey Writers’ Mike Colligan floated a similar theory:

Malkin and Kessel also play an instinctual style as opposed to the precise, tactical approach of Crosby. Much like Mario Lemieux, Malkin and Kessel know exactly when to take off up the ice before hockey fans (and most opponents) even realize there’s a breakaway opportunity. They react to the game as it unfolds, which can be a nightmare for linemates who don’t have the same mindset.

Naturally, Kessel could just easily find chemistry with Crosby. In simplified terms, the American winger is a natural sniper while Crosby ranks as one of the NHL’s most gifted passers. Actually, let’s go even simpler: that duo could work simply because of their sheer skill.

Pensburgh brings up an interesting idea, too: Malkin may very well prosper with Kessel in town even if the former Maple Leaf isn’t his winger. “Geno” had to deal with makeshift wingers while Crosby skated alongside David Perron and Patric Hornqvist in 2014-15, yet Kessel arguably allows other Penguins forwards to fall in more comfortable spots.


It’s obviously way too early to predict how this will shake out, especially since the Penguins could conceivably shake up their roster a bit more before the 2015-16 campaign kicks into gear. Either way, it should be fun to find out how Kessel fits in Pittsburgh, though.

Related: Crosby thinks that Kessel is excited to join the Penguins.

It’s Done: Rangers eliminate Penguins in overtime


The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers battled fiercely for five games. Each contest was determined by just one goal and the final two went to overtime.

But at the end of the day, the Penguins could only win once and the Rangers officially eliminated them with a 2-1 victory tonight.

Carl Hagelin scored the overtime marker:

This is the sixth straight year Pittsburgh couldn’t get it done in the playoffs. This time around though, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t the story. He did all that could be expected of him in this series, posting a 2.12 GAA and .927 save percentage in five contests.

Instead fingers will likely be pointed at Evgeni Malkin, who fired six shots on goal Friday night but still finished the series without a single point. The Penguins lacked offensive depth in this series as well as Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist accounted for half of Pittsburgh’s eight goals.

At the same time, it would be wrong to ignore the fact that the Penguins were missing defensemen Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff, and Olli Maatta as well as forwards Pascal Dupuis and Beau Bennett due to injuries. That’s a lot of talent to be stuck on the sidelines.

Still, another Penguins season that began with Stanley Cup aspirations is over while the Presidents’ Trophy winning Rangers are moving forward. The Rangers fell in the Stanley Cup Final in 2014. They’re one step closer to getting back there now.

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