Mark Madden: Thoughts on Penguins, Marcus Petterson, Ryan Reaves
As the climate turns frigid, expert analysis turns brief in this assortment of refreshing hockey notes. Bet you can’t read just one!
• After Patric Hornqvist left Thursday’s home win vs. the New York Islanders hurt, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan rearranged his lines and put Phil Kessel on Sidney Crosby’s right wing. The result was some pretty play and an even-strength goal for each. But that combo has little chance of lasting. Kessel wants to play his way. Crosby wants his wingers to play as he dictates. So if those two skate together 5-on-5 for more than just a bit, friction will result. It has before. In 2016, Kessel was filmed launching expletives at Crosby on the bench after Crosby criticized.
• The Penguins are 19 for 76 on the power play for a conversion percentage of 25.0, eighth-best in the NHL. But if you subtract the eight short-handed goals conceded, their “true” conversion percentage is 14.4, which would rank 29th. Allowing eight short-handed goals in 27 games is beyond embarrassing. It’s like the power play wants to finish last and draft Mario Lemieux.
• GM Jim Rutherford said getting defenseman Marcus Petterson from the Anaheim Ducks for winger Daniel Sprong was not a prelude to another deal. Don’t be so sure. If Petterson beds in OK as a regular, defenseman Olli Maatta would be a logical asset to dangle because he would bring legit return. Derick Brassard wouldn’t. Sprong didn’t, not really. Bryan Rust had value once, but now he’s got one goal in 27 games.
• It’s been just two games, but Petterson has done fine. He’s got good gap and, at 6-foot-3, utilizes his reach well. That reminds us that Jamie Oleksiak, at 6-7, doesn’t.
• Petterson got pummeled badly in a fight Oct. 25 by Dallas’ Radek Faksa. An NHL scout said Anaheim felt he’s been gun-shy since. That’s something to eyeball, but Petterson has been aggressive since arriving in Pittsburgh. He whacks and hacks.
• If goaltender Matt Murray returns and performs to his talent, the insignificance of every other perceived Penguins problem will be exposed. Most will seem to disappear. If Murray stays healthy and plays like he can, the Penguins can go a long way. Those are two big ifs.
• My gut says Casey DeSmith isn’t a No. 1-caliber goaltender. But his stats say otherwise: DeSmith’s save percentage is .923 (10th among goalies who have played 10 or more games) and his goals-against average is 2.46 (12th among goalies who have played 10 or more games). But he scrambles too often, and his size (a reported 6 feet, but clearly smaller) makes me flinch every time a foe winds up.
• Crosby’s defensive effort in holding Colorado’s red-hot top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog to zero goals Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena compares to any of his performances this season. Crosby did the same thing against Auston Matthews on Oct. 18 at Toronto. Embracing and flawlessly executing a defensive matchup displays total unselfishness on the part of a superstar. (Crosby’s method of defense includes having the puck a lot.)
• Crosby scored yet another bad-angle goal in Thursday’s win over the Islanders. (At least he gave the backhand a rest.) It takes two things to score like that: pinpoint skill and the nerve to try it.
• Hornqvist’s hat trick in 167 seconds during Tuesday’s 6-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche might have saved the Penguins’ season. Blowing three-goal leads in losses twice at home within 16 days would have scarred the team’s psyche. Hornqvist is underappreciated. No Penguin competes harder or puts his body on the line more.
• Here’s a great idea by veteran hockey scribe Pierre LeBrun: put nine teams from each conference in the playoffs, then open the postseason with the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds in each conference playing a single-game elimination. MLB does that with its wild-card round, and it’s so exciting. You start the playoffs in electric fashion with the equivalent of two Game Sevens. It gets fans immediately invested.
• It’s OK to not be outraged that Vegas’ Ryan Reaves concussed Washington’s Tom Wilson with a hit both late and from the blind side. If your favorite team has been victimized by Wilson’s chronic headhunting, it’s even OK to crack a smile. What goes around, came around. Because a 20-game suspension didn’t scare Wilson straight, perhaps being targeted by a bigger, badder bully will give him pause. (Probably not.)
• Reaves’ conquest of Wilson made me ponder Reaves’ potential value in the Penguins’ second-round series loss to Washington in last spring’s playoffs. Reaves couldn’t have helped less than Carter Rowney.
• Reaves may have gone a bit far when he tried to sell signed photos of himself standing over a prone Wilson. (Those were quickly pulled from the marketplace and destroyed.) An athlete shouldn’t profit from injuring another athlete. But I would like one of those pictures. Did any survive?
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).