Mike Sullivan made his mark during the early stages of his Penguins tenure as head coach of locking in pairs of ‘two’ with a focus on balance. He also embraced top-9 roles for inexperienced players. There has been less and less of that throughout the years and the lack of interest from Sullivan in spreading out the group of top-9 forwards to try to have a more balanced third line has been maddening this season and an area that Sullivan has deservedly been highly criticized for.

Better late than never, right?

Pittsburgh’s performance in their 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday afternoon was far from being a greatly encouraging victory. Give up on believing this group can consistently put together a 60-minute game. That said, what was encouraging, and a building block moving forward was the lineup.

Guentzel – Crosby – Rust

Zucker – Malkin – Nylander

O’Connor – Granlund – Rakell

Heinen – Carter – Archibald

Trickle Down Effect of Nylander on 2nd Line: You want to see Alex Nylander get a run against quality playoff level competition as the second line right winger and that will happen Sunday against the Rangers. The metrics of the Malkin line was not outstanding by any means against the Flyers, 1 Goals For, 47 CF%) but two games in Nylander has been impressive in how he hasn’t looked out of place with Evgeni Malkin and Jason Zucker. Against the Flyers, he again put himself in the right spots and what’s even been surprising to the coaching staff has been the little details in how he’s reading and reacting next to Malkin. Anyone can see the obvious and how an embrace by the coaching staff to give this combination a run together can have on making the lineup deeper. In two games Nylander has played 25:28 at 5 vs 5 and the Penguins are 3 Goals For, 0 Against with 37 shot attempts to 17 attempts against with Nylander on the ice. “I’ve been overly impressed with his complete game,” Mike Sullivan said after Saturday’s win, while also saying if Nylander continues playing like this, he’s proving to be an NHL player. The burning question might not be Nylander’s fit but Sullivan’s patience with an inexperienced player as Sullivan’s actions this season show this is still going to be a game-by-game basis for Nylander no matter what……..

Intrigue of Granlund-Rakell Combination: Pittsburgh’s biggest issue with their third line play this season has been the lack of ability of pretty much any individual among their line combinations to have the ability to create 1-on-1 offense. Long-term many like they should hate the risk the Penguins took in taking on Granlund’s contract but as mentioned before, in the immediate he addresses a major need in his ability to create 1-on-1 offense outside of the groups top-6 forwards. The coaching staff in the short-term thought the Granlund addition could jump start Jeff Carter’s offensive game but when the hands go at his age, they go. What Sullivan and his staff finally found was an intriguing pair of Granlund and Rickard Rakell. Two skilled players that see the ice really well who can possibly give the Penguins a third line for the first time this season that can put the opposition on their heels every once in a while. And for one game, Drew O’Connor shined on left wing with Granlund and Rakell by providing a presence in the dirty areas and the lead forechecker on the line.


Less could be better for Jeff Carter? Don’t write off Jeff Carter just yet providing a somewhat effective role down the stretch with limited 5 vs 5 minutes, while playing a continued heavy role on the PK and as a net-front presence with the 2nd power play unit. Time will tell but it’s always been the route to go once it became clear months ago that the offensive skills have eroded. 4th line minutes 5 vs 5 in the six-minute range like what transpired Saturday vs the Flyers is a start in the right direction……..Lineup Mysteries: Best 12 always includes Archibald: One of the perplexing lineup decisions is how Josh Archibald always has a regular spot no matter what and will probably still be favored over others the likes of Ryan Poehling, Alex Nylander, and Danton Heinen if this group has a full stable of forwards available by the post-season……….Pierre Olivier Joseph over Jan Rutta? Jan Rutta not Brian Dumoulin is the weakest link among the Penguins regular d-men. Dmitry Kulikov can play the right side, he’s much quicker, efficient to exit the zone and pick his spots much better when pinching in the offensive zone. Not to mention Kulikov’s presence on the penalty kill really makes Rutta obsolete and has opened a window to go the Joseph route. Will it happen? To read this insider news, subscribe to get “Inside Access”!