Ahead of the New York Islanders' fourth tilt with the Metropolitan Division Pittsburgh Penguins, we turned to SB Nation's Penguins blog, PensBurgh, to exchange questions and thoughts on the top two teams in the Metro.
You can read what I told them about Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Strome, and the overall improvement of the Isles in this post at PensBurgh. Below are Hooks' answers to my questions:
Lighthouse Hockey: The Penguins have had a litany of injuries and illnesses, but have remained at or near the top of the shockingly strong Metro. Which injury loss has hurt the most, and have they managed to overcome all of them?
PensBurgh: Luckily, the most important pieces (Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Letang) have been healthy, Crosby's mumps and a few games missed for Letang aside. Most all of the depth players have shuttled in and out.
I would say the most costly losses have probably been to Pascal Dupuis (likely out for the year with blood clots) or 20-year-old sensation Olli Maatta (who's season is now over with a second shoulder surgery). Both were probably on the list of "top 10 most important players on the team" and losses like that loom large.
But they’ve managed to stabilize thanks to some solid performances from surprises like former Islander Blake Comeau (11 goals in 32 games!), madman Steve Downie (20 points and counting!) as well as the fact that Crosby/Malkin have been very productive and Fleury has been incredibly and uncharacteristically consistent, posting a .926, .922 and .935 save % over the first 3 months of the season. Add in Letang’s 28 points and 26 minutes a night and that’s a solid formula to win a lot of games, which obviously has been Pittsburgh’s MO for the past 9 seasons.
LHH: Related to that, they've recently added David Perron and Mark Arcobello. What roles do you see both playing going forward?
PensBurgh: Perron has been on Crosby’s wing for each of his 4 games as a Penguin and has been sensational with 4 points (3g, 1a) and 20 shots on goal (a tidy 5 per game for my fellow math majors). The Pens finally have a skilled forward in his twenties to play with Crosby, which has amazingly been an issue his entire career. I see Perron as a difference maker, impact player and a guy who should be a major part of the team. With his skill, skating, right-handed shot that loves to pull the trigger on, he ought to be an ideal winger for Crosby and productive at even and power play.
Arcobello’s different. He’s just a filler type until Patric Hornqvist and Comeau get back from injury in 2-3 weeks. The Pens had to resort to dressing Bryan Rust (who?) and Andrew Ebbett (yuck), so Arcobello is at least a guy with a modicum of skill and can play a role until injuries recede a little. Then they’ll see how Arcobello fares, maybe try to find him on a 4th line and kick out a crappy player like Zach Sill or Craig Adams from the lineup (fingers crossed). Or they can just waive Arcobello again and send him on his way if he doesn’t work out, easy come, easy go.
LHH: If I remember right, reactions to the Rutherford hiring were not unanimously supportive among fans. Has that changed? And what's he done right? Who is likely to takeover when he starts cashing in retirement checks?
PensBurgh: "Not unanimously supportive" is a very kind way for you to put it; there was a panic and meltdown among Penguins fans over the summer. The 65-year-old had a very poor recent track record in Carolina, where he made bad trades, signed terrible contracts and missed the playoffs the last 5 seasons. So it seemed the exact opposite of an inspired choice. Admittedly I was more than skeptical too, but Rutherford has won me over. Almost every decision he has made has paid off, sometimes in spades.
The James Neal for Hornqvist/Spaling trade was a good one for Pittsburgh. Signing Christian Ehrhoff, Downie and Comeau (all to 1-year deals, which helps future flexibility) proved to be shrewd additions with all playing above expectations. Trading a late-first round pick for 1.5 seasons of Perron, great.
The Fleury contract extension…well, I guess we’ll see but the term (4 years) and the price ($5.75 million) are fairly reasonable moving forward, and Fleury has backed it up with solid, consistent play. The hiring of Mike Johnston as a coach was disjointed as a process, but the result has been a success to this point.
Pittsburgh has three assistant GM’s (Bill Guerin, Jason Botterill, Tom Fitzgerald) that they’re grooming for the next wave. Botterill is the most savvy -- he’s a former NHL player and scout who went back to school for an MBA and has been the genius behind the salary cap numbers for several years.
Guerin’s strength, obviously, is his experience as a player and the way he builds relationships with his affable personality, as NYI fans know.
Fitzgerald has been in charge of player development and is well regarded for his intelligence. Way too early to say which direction they may go, but personally I would think Botterill would be the most well-rounded candidate.