Gameday 59: Secondary Snoring

I’m curious to know how many people back in December genuinely believed that the secondary scoring for the Pittsburgh Penguins would keep on going. I was worried, along with some others at the time, that the Penguins were getting hot at the wrong time. “Debbie Downer”, I believe was the specific description. Well, here we are in the second week of March, two weeks from a trade deadline during which Pittsburgh may not be able to do anything externally about their depth scoring, and six weeks from the end of the regular season, and the only offense the Penguins have been getting since the beginning of 2022 has come from the top of the depth chart.

In the last 28 games, Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang, and Evgeni Malkin have combined for 158 points while the rest of the team has scored 107 points. Since February 1 the ratio is even worse, with those five guys contributing for double the points than the rest of the team. Contrast this to the first 30 games of the season when the rest of the team was actually outproducing the top five scorers, and the problem is quite obvious. The solution, however, is very opaque. However, it is incredible that, when this team is healthiest, the depth scoring disappears. Despite being contrary to what you would expect, it also cannot be a coincidence, but there’s no good way to prove it beyond what we’ve seen.

I am among those who believe that, just as head coach Mike Sullivan is to “blame” for the team’s success at balanced scoring in the first 30 games of the season, he is also to blame for the team’s failure to get balanced scoring since then. His insistence to not spread out his wingers is becoming infamous, and it could be costing Pittsburgh wins. Does Sid need both Guentzel and Rust in order to be productive at even strength? I sincerely doubt it. Does Malkin need to carry the second line all the time? Absolutely not. Do we honestly believe that once Jason Zucker is back that he or his line will magically start producing? I don’t.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how many people on Twitter and the rest of Penguins fandom devise new lines and hope for a trade that makes all the problems go away. Sullivan is notoriously loathe to switch things up personnel-wise unless it is absolutely required due to health problems or injuries. Pittsburgh has neither the cap space nor the quality of assets to make the kind of serious upgrade needed to improve the middle six. The addition-by-subtraction route by trading, for example, Kasperi Kapanen would only work if the team had a good replacement waiting in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which the team obviously doesn’t believe they do, since if they did we would have seen that person play by now. The only thing that can be hoped for is that at some point the shoe will be on the other foot again and the depth scoring will return on its own. Otherwise, the team will suffer the same fate it has in the last three postseasons.