Off The Draw
Some quick hits heading into a critical hockey weekend:
• It’s hard to tell what was most frustrating about the Penguins dropping a 2–1 decision to the Blue Jackets on Thursday night. That it was Pittsburgh’s third loss in a row? That Sidney Crosby was held without a point for the fifth time in six games? Or that he decided to burn off his frustration by fighting with Brandon Dubinsky? Or maybe it was this: The defeat dropped the Penguins’ record within the Metropolitan Division to a miserable 7-11-4, which looks even worse when you factor in that five of the wins came at the expense of the hapless Devils and Hurricanes.
Here’s the grim reality facing Pittsburgh: With six points and three teams between them and first place in the Metro, a division title is all but out of the question. To put the Pens’ chances in perspective, a 16-6-2 finish would give them a 1% chance to win the division, according to Sportclubstats.com. Instead, the best-case scenario is a finish of second or third, which would guarantee a first-round matchup against a division rival. Pittsburgh has managed one win each against the Rangers and the Islanders, but is 0–3 against the Capitals, which lends added meaning to the Penguins’ final regular-season meeting with Washington next Wednesday. Lose that game and they not only lose ground in the playoff race, they set themselves up as an easy out in the first round.
• There’s no doubt that Crosby feels a great deal of comfort with Chris Kunitz on his wing—how else to explain Kunitz’s presence on the 2014 Canadian Olympic team? That said, you have to wonder how much longer Pittsburgh can afford to keep the two paired on its top line. Kunitz, despite skating next to one of the game’s elite playmakers, hasn’t scored in nine games and has just one goal in his last 13. Outside of an exceptional three-assist, four-shot effort against the Flames on Feb. 6, Kunitz has been too slow-of-foot, and too cement-of-hands, to make enough of the opportunities that have been regularly presented to him. Sid needs a partner, not a passenger. Time for coach Mike Johnston to shake things up.
• Interesting note about that game against Calgary: Kunitz played just 13:53, his lightest workload of the season. Maybe a sign that a little less Kunitz goes a long way.
• The Penguins are one of just two teams (the Jets are the other) not to have won a single game this season when trailing after two periods, having gone 0-14-4 in those games. Given the gamebreaking firepower the Pens have on hand, that inability to rally late makes you wonder about their mental toughness.
• Word is that the Pens are pursuing a veteran defenseman ahead of the March 2 trade deadline, but they might be better served by adding a winger who could bring a different look to their top six. Calgary's Curtis Glencross might be the perfect fit. He brings size and bite, two elements that Pittsburgh could use more of up front.
• Now that Colorado's playoff hopes have faded, expect lots of buzz about the Sabres and their pursuit of Ryan O'Reilly. GM Tim Murray tipped his hand with the Evander Kane deal that he's looking to expedite the rebuild of his team, and he has the assets to make a very compelling offer for 24-year-old center Reilly, including one of Buffalo's extra first rounders (acquired from the Blues or the Islanders) that doesn't go to the Jets, and a bevy of young prospects, possibly including Sam Reinhart or Mikhail Grigorenko. It's pretty easy for a Sabres fan to get giddy about the idea of a center corps built around Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel, O'Reilly and Zemgus Girensons.
•The Stars assigned Patrik Nemeth to AHL Texas for conditioning on Thursday, a promising step in the surprisingly fast rehabilitation of the young defenseman. Nemeth, who was expected to play a prominent role with Dallas this season after starring in a Calder Cup run last spring, was expected to be lost for the year after severing tendons in his forearm. That he's ready for action at this point suggests he could be back in the NHL around mid-March—too late to help salvage Dallas's playoff hopes, but plenty of time to see how he might fit into the Stars' promising group moving forward.
• Andrew MacDonald, playing in the first season of a six-year, $30 million contract, has been scratched for three consecutive games by the Flyers. He's a player with obvious warts on his game, but he's also been one of Philly's best defenders of late. Even if they're looking to find ice time to showcase other players for the trade market (Nick Grossman, Braydon Coburn), it's hard to justify planting him in the press box.
• Word around Vancouver suggests the Canucks have no interest in trading Zack Kassian, but given the absence of faith that coach Willie Desjardins has in the young winger you have to wonder why they wouldn't. When he's not scratched, Kassian usually put into light rotation. That's understandable given his propensity for making galling turnovers and his occasional indifference to his defensive duties, but there's no way for him to improve on those issues when the coach won't trust him to go out there and learn from his mistakes. Yes, there's a chance that the former first rounder goes somewhere else and blossoms, Cam Neely-style, into an effective top-six power forward but it's clearly not going to happen in Vancouver. Makes sense then to sell while he still has value and hope that the return includes someone they can trust enough to skate a regular shift.