We are over a 25% of the way through this shortened COVID NHL season. Despite these drastic changes to a normal schedule one thing has remained the same for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Injuries. This team for the last several years have been subject to multiple injuries up and down the lineup. This has caused the team to rely heavily on the “next man up” mentality. This season the Penguins’ defensive core has taken quite a hit resulting in 11 players dressing on the blue line. Lets talk about how each of these players have performed to this point in the season.
It is no secret that Letang had a terrible start to the season. Truly awful. He was making so many mental mistakes that a player of his caliber should not be making. To go along with the mental mistakes he had not been the scoring defenseman we are used to watching. Scoring just 3 points in his first nine games was not good enough. His game has picked up as of late and we have not seen nearly the amount mental lapses. He has also found himself on the scoresheet more often scoring 6 points in his last six games including two goals in Sid’s 1,000th game Saturday night. Letang is not perfect nor is he ever be close to it but we have seen improvement these past couple weeks. Consistency is key for every player. For the Penguins they need Tanger to find his game and stick with it.
John Marino had a not so great start to the season. It was not the player we were expecting having come off such an amazing rookie season. Things got really bad when he was moved to the left side due to injuries. You could tell he was uncomfortable and it was not natural for him to play there. An injury to Letang brought Marino back to the right side and he has looked very good since. Not quite as dominant as last year but he is working his way back to that level. Lets hope to see more of Marino on the scoresheet as well moving forward as well.
Boy did this kid burst onto the scene quickly. Early on this season POJ looked perfect. He was responsible in his own end and showed some skill in the offensive zone. He was easily the Penguins best defenseman for his first 6 or 7 games. Since then we have seen him come back down to reality. He hasn’t been a bad player but we’ve seen some of the mistakes you would expect from a rookie defenseman. Hopefully we see him adjust and get back to the player he was to start the season. It will be a tough to decide who plays when the left side of the defense is fully healthy. Needless to say POJ has made his case to remain in the lineup.
Cody Ceci has been very good. There, I said it. I was just like everyone else when the Penguins signed him to a one year deal. We thought the Penguins had just signed a cheaper version of Jack Johnson. Boy were we wrong. Ever since being a healthy scratch early in the season Ceci has looked like a different player than we are accustomed to seeing with him. Maybe it’s because he has less responsibility in Pittsburgh so he is more relaxed on the ice. Who knows? All I know is he has exceeded everyone’s expectations of him by a mile. Well done.
Another player that has been a pleasant surprise. His first game with the team was very bad. In his second game he got injured and missed a few weeks. I don’t know what happened in that time but he has looked like a completely different player. We’ve seen the offensively skilled player the Penguins traded for in addition to some solid play in his own end. Not a lot to complain about as of late. Hopefully this becomes something we get used to seeing on a nightly basis.
Pettersson has missed a lot of time this season due to injury. He has only played in 7 games this season but has looked like a solid defenseman in pretty much all of them. That’s what we expect from him. I would like to see him given some more minutes. He and Ceci have played well together and I expect that trend to continue moving forward. Not much to complain about.
We haven’t seen Dumo play since January 26th. He has been out with a lower-body injury. Before the injury he did not look great. He along with a struggling Letang made for a pretty bad pairing. It hasn’t been just the few games he’s played this season either. Since he injured his ankle last season he hasn’t looked like the Dumoulin of old. Reliable in his own end and most importantly the defensive anchor that allowed Letang to be the player he can be offensively. He has just seemed…off. Hopefully we see him come back and reestablish himself as the player he once was.
I’ve said for a while now that Chad Ruhwedel is the best 7th D you could ask for. Not a flashy player nor does he try to be. He knows what works for him and sticks to it. You know what you’re going to get from him night in and night out. He has played well this season which is pretty impressive when you consider he’s played on his off-side a good portion of it. Really solid season so far.
Riikola has only played in two games this season. He has been out longer term with an injury but has been skating with the taxi squad the past few days. I don’t think he played bad in his two appearances but it isn’t much to go off. People have questioned whether Sullivan likes him or not enough to play him but he isn’t one of the top six defenseman anyway. If the Penguins are fully healthy healthy he is a nice depth piece to have on the blue line.
Another guy who has barely played this season. Only a couple games to go off of and he didn’t look great in either one. I guess I could give him the benefit of the doubt since he had only been with the team for a couple days. Hard to say. If we’re being honest its ideal that he never sees the ice because there are multiple guys that will play in front of him anyway. At least he is depth I suppose.
Yikes, this guy is bad. He is not an NHL defenseman and for the Penguins sake we should hope never touches the ice again.