The Pittsburgh Penguins made a lot of changes over the summer, however, so far this season many of last season’s problems are still haunting them. One of the biggest issues was the lack of depth scoring, something that has yet to improve. The Penguins will be facing some tough opponents this month including the Dallas Stars and the Colorado Avalanche. Is it too early to panic over the lack of bottom six involvement or should the team make some early adjustments?
Is It Already Time for Changes?
Kyle Dubas, president of hockey operations and general manager, is taking his new role very seriously and is already starting to make changes to the lineup. On Thursday, Oct. 19, the Penguins placed forward Jansen Harkins on waivers. Pittsburgh originally claimed him off waivers from the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 2. He had a promising preseason and looked like he may be a positive addition to the bottom six. However, after four games without a single point, the team decided to go a different route.
Harkins cleared waivers and was sent down to the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins, while forward Radim Zohorna was called up. Zohorna was a standout at training camp, and many were surprised he did not make the team. At 6-foot-6, he towers over pretty much everyone else on the ice and should pack the offensive punch that the bottom six has been lacking.
Last season, there is no denying that forward Jeff Carter did more to hurt the Penguins than help them, and so far this season it has been much of the same. He did get moved to the fourth-line right wing with Noel Acciari at center. Both players are getting used to new assignments while Acciari is also getting used to a new team. At the very least, Pittsburgh has to make it back to the playoffs this year, and in order to do that they have to have their 12 best forwards on the ice.
Head coach Mike Sullivan has a reputation for staying loyal to his veteran players even when they are performing poorly and has strongly defended Carter in the past. The bottom line is that he is simply not bringing anything to the table and should be scratched sooner rather than later.
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If Sullivan had sat Carter last season and given one of the young forwards from Wilkes Barre more of an opportunity, the Penguins may not have missed the postseason. This is a mistake that fans are hoping Pittsburgh does not repeat, and one player who may be able to help the bottom six is Sam Poulin.
Poulin had an impressive training camp and preseason. On Sept. 24, Pittsburgh lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 in overtime, however, Poulin made sure to make his presence known. He had almost 20 minutes of ice time in the game with a goal on four shots against the Blue Jackets starters. His skating has improved and while he is not a huge scoring threat, his solid game would make him a good third or fourth-line center.
Moving Acciari to the right wing would allow him to play a stronger defensive game as he is really good on the forecheck. A fourth line made up of Matthew Nieto, Acciari, and Poulin makes sense on paper and should be something the Penguins seriously consider.
Penguins Need to Start Winning
The Penguins have some difficult games coming up on their schedule and if they do not figure out how to get production from the bottom six, they simply will not have a successful season. Their top two lines are the reason they have been able to win a couple games, but without depth scoring history will definitely repeat itself.
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