- CP photo: Jared Wickerham
- Phil Kessel
Depth is one of our most coveted intangibles. We aspire to have a great depth of knowledge. We’re all looking for the deeper meaning of life. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan wants to have a deeper lineup, and he thinks he has just that heading into the NHL season.
“We're certainly deeper this year,” Sullivan says. “When you look at the potential makeup of our fourth line, there are some good players on that fourth line.”
Sure, it’s great to have a good fourth line. But I don’t think a lacking fourth line is what cost the Penguins in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. It wasn’t depth that cost the back-to-back champs their chance to three-peat. It was all of their stars’ inability to reach the heights of their potential.
Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, and Jake Guentzel combined for 24 goals and 53 points in 12 playoff games. They certainly weren’t the problem.
Phil Kessel, though, was putrid. His stats (9 points in 12 games) were misleading. He only had three even-strength points over two series. After being one of the team’s best playoff performers from 2016-17, Kessel was so bad in his third postseason with the Penguins that people were questioning if he was hurt.
Evgeni Malkin burst into the playoffs just like the Penguins: dominant. He scored a beautiful, coast-to coast goal that showcased his wheels, skill, and pedigree. He wasn’t that same, dynamic difference-maker after an injury sidelined him at the end of a first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers. In his first game against the Washington Capitals, Geno finished a Tiger Woods-like minus-7 — and about a week later, the Penguins (also like Tiger) were back to golfing.
Derick Brassard was supposed to be the Penguins’ trade-deadline darling last season. He had been a tremendous playoff performer. But a couple of even-strength points in a dozen playoff games fell far short of “tremendous.” He wasn’t healthy. The Penguins can only hope injury was Brassard’s issue.
And then there was Matt Murray, a goalie who had done no wrong by backstopping the Penguins to their fourth and fifth titles. His save percentages were .923 and .937 in those Cup runs, but plummeted to .908 last postseason. Do the math.
Sullivan and general manager Jim Rutherford can talk all they want about depth, the fourth line needing to produce offense, whatever. They aren’t wrong. It would help.
But here’s betting that a healthy Malkin and Brassard, a rejuvenated Kessel, and more consistent Murray are the biggest keys to the team hoisting the greatest trophy in sports for the third time in four years.
Follow featured contributor Adam Crowley on Twitter @_AdamCrowley