Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Penguins After Ten (12) Games: Part III, The Forwards

Evaluating the forwards after twelve games isn't much different than it would have been after ten. Last Friday night they played a very solid first twenty minutes against the Flyers, but were terrible the rest of the way. They followed that up with a great team effort Saturday in Carolina. A good night and a bad night. Much as it has been with the Pens' goaltending, the forwards have been up and down. Here's my take (alphabetically, with games played in parenthesis. Part I is here, Part II is here.):

Craig Adams: (10) With four points and a +3 Adams has given the Pens exactly what was expected. Centering the fourth line and killing penalties Adams is the consummate role player and grinder. He tied a career-high with a three point night against Tampa but the Pens blew a 3-1 lead. Grade: B

Arron Asham: (3) After a solid preseason Asham injured his shoulder and missed the first nine games. In limited minutes it already looks like he is going to add toughness and grit and will occasionally take shifts on the top two lines. I imagine he eventually will get back playing with Cooke and Talbot on the third line giving the Pens the most annoying/aggravating line in the game. Grade: Incomplete

Mike Comrie: (11) After an excellent preseason Comrie has gotten off to a disastrous start. Penciled in as a top six forward Comrie has even managed to get himself scratched once due to his poor play. He's come on a little the last few games, but he is the only forward who has played at least five games not to register a goal. He is getting a huge reprieve due to Staal's injury. We'll see if he takes advantage. Grade: F

Matt Cooke: (12) Cooke has picked up right where he left off last year and is more than justifying the 3 year/$5.4 million contract he signed in the offseason. With six points, a +2 and 17 penalty minutes Cooke is doing exactly what he's asked to do while killing penalties--adding two shorthanded goals--and aggravating opponents. Grade: A

Sidney Crosby: (12) It's heresy to say anything negative about Sid, but I don't think we've seen the consistent high level of play that we saw last year so far this year. He's still the best player on the ice most nights and I'm sure he'll be in the center of the Hart debate by the end of the year, but I expect more production from Sid, particularly on the power play. He has to take some of the blame for the Penguins utter lack of production with the man advantage. Grade: B+

Pascal Dupuis: (12) Dupuis came through with two goals against Carolina and was really flying all night long. Last year he scored 18 goals mostly riding shotgun with Sid. Coming into the year they tried a lot of guys on Sid's right wing put it appears Dupuis has settled back into that role. The Penguins would love to see him score 30, but it isn't going to happen. If he keeps forechecking, killing penalties and scoring the occasional goal he's going to stay where he is. Grade: B

Eric Godard: (4) With Deryk Engelland proving to be a shockingly good enforcer and adequate defenseman everyone seems to be clamoring to get rid of Godsy. I don't see the need. The Pens aren't looking to make any acquisitions and his cap number isn't a hindrance. Godard also acquitted himself quite well taking a fourth line shift in Carolina. He knows his role and is still a very solid guy to have on the roster for those Patrick Division battles. Grade: B-/Incomplete

Tyler Kennedy: (12) For a guy some thought was a question mark to make the team coming into camp, Kennedy has performed well. His speed is his biggest asset and he has utilized it to take the third most shots on the team while playing less than 12 minutes a game. I'm still not sold that Kennedy is going to have a role every night when everyone is healthy, but he has done a good job thus far. Grade: B

Chris Kunitz: (12) As long as he keeps forechecking and taking the body Kunitz is going to keep his spot as Sid's left wing. With two goals and four assists he isn't overwhelming anybody with his production. His willingness to do the dirty work has earned him some time on the first power play unit standing in front of the net, but he's getting more than 18 minutes a night so he's got to start scoring if the Penguins are going to be the dominant team they are looking to be. Grade: C+

Mark Letestu: (12) The 25-year old Letestu won a roster spot in camp and has been in the line-up every night since. On a couple nights he's been the best forward on the ice. Unfortunately his versatility has meant that Bylsma has moved him around in various roles rather than keep him in one spot. I think this has effected his performance the past two weeks. After a fast start he has cooled a bit, but still leads the team with two game-winners. With Staal out for an extended period he may get a chance to solidify a role as a top six forward. Grade: B

Evgeni Malkin: (11) The toughest guy on the team to figure out. Malkin won the Art Ross Trophy in 2009 but hasn't played up to that level on a consistent basis since. With only nine points in 11 games and no goals on the power play he just hasn't produced enough. In fact Malkin's 7:22 of power play minutes/game leads the league by thirty seconds (Crosby is second). With that kind of ice time with the man advantage Malkin just has to score goals. Flashes of brilliance are interspersed with bad turnovers and lackadaisical effort. Not having productive wingers certainly hasn't helped, but Malkin is one of the ten best players in the world. He needs to do more. Grade: C

Mike Rupp: (12) The fact that Rupp has played in all 12 games says volumes. He's not going to score 13 goals like he did last year--I'd be surprised if he hit double digits--but he has been solid on the fourth line and even looked good as part of the second unit on the power play. He's also not afraid to mix it up when necessary. Grade: B

Jordan Staal: (0) Staal was set to comeback tonight against Dallas but broke a bone in his hand in practice on Monday. If nothing else his absence has shown how valuable he is to the team. Now he'll have about six more weeks to work on his conditioning. I'm sure he'll be raring to go when he returns for the second half. He will be a welcome addition. No Grade

Max Talbot: (12) Talbot's production dropped last year as he got a late start recovering from shoulder surgery. This year he's only contributed two goals, but has been very good on the penalty kill. Though undersized he, Cooke and Ashram could make up a formidable third line. Talbot probably has an extended pass because of his Game 7 heroics, but it would be nice if he started to contribute more on the offensive end. Grade: B-

Eric Tangradi: (9) Being on a two-way contract sealed Tangradi's fate when Ashram came back. He didn't look overmatched in the NHL but he's better off in Wilkes-Barre playing 20 minutes a night than playing 10-12 and being an occasional scratch with the big club. It was good that he got the exposure to the NHL game and he'll be back soon enough. Grade C


Carl said...

I think your comments are spot on but I'd give Kunitz a C rather than C plus. He never appears to anticpate passes from Crosby like you would expect or hope for. . . it is aggravating to watch sometimes. Not sure we can afford a better winger at this point but he needs to step it up for that line to meet expected production.

Pants said...

Sid has missed the net twice as much as he has hit it, and you can see the frustration in his play when he is not on the same page as his linemates vs. previous years when he justs puts his head down and grinds through it.
Kunitz is a smart player and has done what is asked of him, but just doesn't have the hands, speed, or the anticipation to play with Sid. Was hoping Comrie would be an improvement, but has been a total bust to date. Not sure we even have the Kevin Stevens type player in the system at this point, but Kunitz is no where close.
I also wonder what factor the terrible ice at the CEC has played in their miserable home record. The bad ice would effect the forwards more, especially a guy like Malkin and on the power play. I also think the audio in the place is painful (especially last Friday), but that is for a different post. All of the grades are spot on and graded on the appropriate curve, unlike the rookie defensemen.

gunner said...

I've seen that we have some good fighter like Engelland but we need a consistently punishing checking. Who are the players that can fill that role.

The Hammer said...

Lots of guys fill that role. Kunitz does it on Sid's line. Ashram, Cooke, Talbot, Rupp and Adams all play because they are willing to take the body, forecheck and work hard off the puck. The Penguins aren't lacking for that type of player. What they are lacking is pure goal scorers. Plenty of toughness in the lineup at the moment.

gunner said...

Good point Hammer. Maybe Crosby needs to go back to the no curve stick.