Pens Didn’t Get ‘The’ Defenseman, But They Got What They Needed

Assuming everyone’s healthy again by mid-April, the Penguins will be eight deep along the blueline heading into the this season’s playoffs.

 

The Capitals got Kevin Shattenkirk, but Jim Rutherford is still willing to take his chances.

“Shattenkirk’s a good player, everybody acknowledges that,” the Penguins’ general manager allowed in Chicago after the NHL’s 3 p.m. Wednesday trade deadline had passed. “But we feel the team we have, as long as we’re healthy, we’re capable of beating anybody.”

That’s not to say the Caps didn’t outlast the Penguins to Shattenkirk, formerly of the St. Louis Blues and the best defenseman perceived to be available in advance of Wednesday’s deadline because of his free-agent-to-be status.

“Hearing @penguins & @Capitals are locked in a fierce battle for Kevin Shattenkirk. What’s at stake a trip to #StanleyCup Final,” NHL Network analyst Brian Lawton tweeted on Tuesday night before Shattenkirk landed in Washington, D.C.

TSN.ca’s Frank Seravalli wrote after the transaction had been completed that one of the benefits for the Capitals was “keeping Shattenkirk away from both the Penguins and the Rangers.”

So the Penguins didn’t get the best player available and their competition in the Metropolitan Division did.

Advantage Capitals.

But in getting defenseman Ron Hainsey last week and defenseman Mark Streit just prior to the deadline, the Penguins concocted the appropriate counter.

They also kept goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, which may or may not prove significant.

Matt Murray started 21 of the Penguins’ 24 playoff games a season ago and was the goalie of record in 15 of the 16 victories required to capture the Stanley Cup.

On defense, conversely, only Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin and Ben Lovejoy were able to play all 24 postseason games among the Penguins’ playoffs-opening Top 6 at the position. Injury, inconsistency and/or suspension limited Trevor Daley to 15 games, Ollie Maatta to 18 and Kris Letang to 23.

Justin Schultz played as a seventh defenseman in the postseason opener against the Rangers, then was then a healthy scratch for the next seven games. And Schultz still wound up playing in 14 of the final 16 postseason affairs, including the final 12 in succession.

So depth in net, while a luxury than can become a necessity, still isn’t as much of a prerequisite for playoff success as having enough experienced, NHL-caliber defensemen.

The recent injuries to Maatta, Daley and Letang were enough of a reminder toward that end, as if one was needed.

“Those are three important guys,” Rutherford said. “It was important that we added the guys that we did.”

Addressing that need and still being able to keep Fleury was a win-win for the Penguins.

Hainsey and Streit will contribute immediately while Maatta, Daley and Letang convalesce.

And the new additions will at the very least provide the necessary depth eventually.

Where would the Pens have been last postseason if they hadn’t had that when Daley went down in the Eastern Conference Final?

On the wrong side of a handshake line, most likely.

Assuming everyone’s healthy again by mid-April, the Penguins will be eight deep along the blueline heading into the this season’s playoffs.

That’ll come in handy once one or more of their Top-6 defensemen goes down.

And until that happens, it’ll provide head coach Mike Sullivan with options.

“It’ll make (for) difficult decisions,” Sullivan said, allowing himself to contemplate for a moment a scenario in which all of the Penguins’ defensemen were available.

In other words, if Maatta or Daley, for example, would happen to be healthy but for one reason or another not at the top of their game at a particular point of the playoffs, they wouldn’t necessarily have to play.

Competition for spots in the lineup and for ice time would be fierce on defense, which would presumably bring out the best in the Penguins’ defensemen and afford a multitude of potential match-up possibilities for Sullivan.

Not that Sullivan presumes to be in such a position for very long, if it all.

“My experience of going through it is that depth gets challenged when you have high expectations and you’re trying to make a deep run,” he said.

Thanks to Hainsey and Streit, the Penguins once again have both.
  

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section