In my mind’s eye, the Pittsburgh Penguins will always be a finesse team. Back in the Mario Lemieux/Jaromir Jagr Era, their teams were typically explosive on offense and soft on defense*, making them an adventure to watch on both ends of the ice.
* Aside from a few dirty hitters such as Ulf Samuelsson and one of my childhood favorites, Darius Kasparaitis.
Yet ever since current head coach Dan Bylsma took the mantle from Michel Therrien, the Penguins rapidly transformed from a cute and cuddly group into a rugged team that can go toe-to-toe with their cross-state rivals in Philadelphia. Another big thematic change came when the team traded downy soft offensive defenseman to Anaheim for forechecking demon Chris Kunitz. Although Kunitz isn’t a consistent fighter, his addition signaled that the Penguins would morph into a club that is uncomfortable to play against.
In fact, Puck Daddy points out the fact that the Pens are among the league leaders in fighting majors, lead the league in total penalties and rank second in total penalty minutes.
The question remains: is their newfound toughness a good thing? From the most basic standpoint, the mindset brings heightened security for stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin while conversely increasing the number of penalties the team must kill. Greg Wyshynski studied season-to-season results and didn’t find a conclusive trend while Seth Rorabaugh wonders if it’s such a good thing.
That’s all good and well, but is it becoming a problem? Leading the league in times shorthanded isn’t exactly a good thing. Granted, when you have the top-ranked penalty kill in the NHL, the severity of that issue is lessened, but that’s still a lot of time the Penguins have to spend playing defense for the most part. It’s also lot of time their two best players – Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin – are likely to ride the bench.
And while their penalty kill is obviously excellent, it’s not dangerous the same way the Flyers’ is with the scoring abilities of Mike Richards or Claude Giroux.
So are the Penguins better off playing their old, borderline pacifistic style or are they better off taking the good and bad that comes with getting into a lot of scuffles? Let us know in the comments.