The 2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins are an enigma.
On paper they are one of the most talented teams in the league and they have skilled players at every position. They have names like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Chris Kunitz, David Perron and Kris Letang, yet they cannot score goals on a consistent basis.
Their record stands at 15-12-3 and they have only scored 68 goals in those 30 games played — or 2.27 goals per-game. They’re 27th in the NHL in total goals scored and 25th in average goals scored per-game. According to war-on-ice, the Penguins generate 26.9 scoring chances per-sixty minutes played, which is the 9th in the league. But their even strength shooting percentage is a low 6.1%, or 24th in the NHL.
It’s a mystery why the Penguins can’t score and head coach Mike Sullivan has been doing everything in his power to produce offense. Since taking over the Penguins, he’s tried a new combination of lines during every time his team has touched the ice.
Just two days ago he had the Penguins using these lines at practice.
Practice Lines: Kunitz-Crosby-Perron Plotnikov-Malkin-Hornqvist Kessel-Fehr-Sprong Cullen-Bonino
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 15, 2015
And when Pittsburgh played the Boston Bruins they utilized these lines.
Here are your #Pens line combinations and defensive pairings for tonight's matchup. Zatkoff will start in net. pic.twitter.com/DvvLEWBexj
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 17, 2015
Despite using another brand new combination of lines, the Penguins could not find the back of the net against the Boston Bruins. The combinations that Sullivan deployed against the Bruins were different in an attempt to generate some offense, but they fell flat too. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some lines that might actually jump-start this struggling team.
- Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Daniel Sprong
- David Perron – Evgeni Malkin – Phil Kessel
- Conor Sheary – Eric Fehr – Patric Hornqvist
- Sergei Plotnikov – Matt Cullen – Kevin Porter
Chris Kunitz and Crosby have had some of the best chemistry between two players in the modern NHL. Despite Kunitz’s slowing production, which he’s recently rebounded, these two cannot be separated for Crosby’s sake. 18-year old forward Daniel Sprong isn’t the most refined forward yet, but he provides a spark when he’s on the ice. Crosby and Sprong have played a few shifts together in the last few games and they’ve been dynamic together. Until the Penguins offense returns to a normal level, it’s time to play the rookie alongside Crosby.
The unit of David Perron, Kessel and Malkin has been the Penguins second line for most of the season. They’ve been one of the only line combinations that is capable of consistently generating offensive chances, it’s a mystery why these three were ever removed from the same line.
With the recent injury to Beau Bennett, forward Conor Sheary was called up from the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and despite his small frame, his game translated very well to the NHL level. Eric Fehr is the exact opposite of Sheary, he’s a big forward and played center in the last few years for the Washington Capitals and now the Penguins. Unite these two to counter the size difference and put the gritty, net-front wing Patric Hornqvist on the right side and the Penguins might have a third line that can score.
At this point, Pittsburgh’s fourth line isn’t a scoring line, it’s a defensive unit. Their skill players have been deployed on higher lines and Sullivan should create a fourth line with defense in mind. Sergei Plotnikov and Matt Cullen have been solid possession players and are considered effective two-way skaters. Add defensive specialist Kevin Porter to their line and very few goals will be scored against this line.
The Penguins need to find a way to generate offense and they need to fix their woes quickly. They’re slowly sliding down the standings and it’s simply an inability to put the puck in the opposing net because their defensive play is among the best in the entire NHL. These proposed line combinations aren’t fool proof, but they’re a step in the right direction. Sullivan does not know his team very well yet and as he learns his players’ style it wouldn’t be surprising to see a lot of these line combinations appear in the Penguins lineup.