Stud of the Week 04/22/13

The Penguins are coming off another undefeated week of hockey with back to back wins over the teams with the second and third best records in the Eastern Conference. They’re still doing it without the two best players on the planet, an elite goal scorer, and one of the most underrated defensemen in the league this year. In doing so they locked up the top seed in the East with more than 10% of their games still remaining.

There’s a lot of acclaim that can go around but most of the biggest contributors continued to be the new guys that we featured last week: Brenden Morrow stepped up with an awesome Gordie Howe Hat Trick against the Habs and Jarome Iginla silenced the boo birds in Boston with a lethal PP goal. Beyond that the “New JJ” chipped in on all 3 goals against the Bruins and Tomas Vokoun showed just how good he could be with 38 10-bell saves in the same effort. But our rules are clear, no back to back winners, so let’s look at who else has been taking care of business.

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Brandon Sutter: along with Mark Eaton I failed to mention this new arrival in last week’s edition. A big part of the problem though is that Sutter has never looked or played like a new arrival in a Penguins sweater. From his first appearance in the Black/Gold game Sutter has been a perfect fit. He’s very sound in his defensive zone and produces a lot of timely offense.

For a little perspective, his 5 game winning goals are good for the fourth best mark in the league, and if this were baseball he would be second in the league in “slugging percentage,” which I conceive of as game winners as a percentage of goals scored, in the same way that slugging percentage is a measure of what percentage of hits drive in runs in baseball. His 5 game winners on 11 overall goals is good for a .454 percentage, that trumps Jeff Carter: 8 GWG, 25 goals overall .320, and Marian Hossa: 6 GWG in 17 goals, .352 slugging percentage, and narrowly trails Pavel Datsyuk’s 6 GWG in 13 goals, .462. He’s developed his own signature scoring play, the Brandon-Sutter-Down-The-Left-Wing play, and despite being comparable in size to his predecessor, Jordan Staal, one of the most defining things about him is his speed, a perfect fit in Bylsma’s system.

Honestly, for our money, few guys have been more important to the Penguins all year than Brandon Sutter.

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Kris Letang: I have to eat a lot of crow here, I’ve been tough on Letang all season, but the last several games have shown just how good he really is. If he had been healthy he would be miles ahead of anyone else for Norris consideration and after spending much of the year challenging whether the Pens should consider re-signing him I hope he becomes their first priority in the offseason. Letang has matured an incredible amount this season and he finally looks like a “power play quarterback.” The play he made to keep the puck in the zone on Iginla’s PP goal Saturday is downright legendary.

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Pascal Dupuis: when talking about the most valuable player to the Penguins, it’s impossible to look past Duper. When he came in as an afterthought in the Marian Hossa trade Dupuis expected to slot in as a third line option. He had scored 20 goals once in his career, years before, and he seemed like what Tyler Kennedy is now: a one hit wonder in the goals department. But then last year he ended up with the league’s longest scoring streak, and he scored 20 goals again. But then things got really interested, reunited with Sidney Crosby Pascal Dupuis managed to score 20 goals in 40 games this year, who expected that? And then Sid got hurt, and Duper stepped up and decided to start playing center, and he’s been damn good at it. He’s won faceoffs at nearly 50% (48.1%) and he’s been a big part in Brenden Morrow’s surge into Pittsburgh sports lore. He leads the NHL in plus/minus and he’s second in the league (along with Jeff Carter and John Tavares) for even strength goals at 17 (one behind Jiri Tlusty who has 18).

I know a lot of people who will tell you that there is no more polarizing figure in the Penguins organization than Marc-Andre Fleury, those who believe that are really butt hurt because when you try to argue in a reasonable sense using things like statistics MAF’s legacy becomes very clear: an okay goalie on a great team, just like Tom Barrasso throughout the 90s. MAF will never win a Vezina, he’s never likely to win a Jenning’s Trophy either. The sooner people accept that the less polarizing MAF will seem to them. Ray Shero seems to have a very clear vision of what MAF is, why did he otherwise give a million dollars to a guy who very well might walk away after this season?

But enough of this tirade, for our money, the most polarizing figure in the Penguins organization is Dan Bylsma, and this week we’re honoring him with the Stud of the Week.

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Dan Bylsma: Going into the game against the Senators Monday, Bylsma is the fastest coach to 200 wins in the history of the NHL, a scanty 316 games. That’s good for a lifetime regular season winning percentage of .671, in 50 career playoff games HCDB has mustered a 28-22 record, good for a .560 winning percentage. You may not like the early exits in recent years, but a coach can claim pretty good job security anytime he can boast of a winning record in the playoffs. Taking both totals together Disco has a winning percentage of .622 in 4 years in charge of the Penguins.

But that doesn’t seem to really create a lot of security, at least among the fans, for Coach Dan. His policies can be frustrating, choosing to play Deryk Engelland over Simon Despres jumps out, so does everything involving Tyler Kennedy and Tanner Glass. And then there is the reliance on “system players” over “skilled players” as has often been the case, especially when you consider that Tyler Kennedy typically gets more minutes in a game than Beau Bennett does. But who are we to second guess him? He’s got a Stanley Cup ring, he’s won the Jack Adams, and he’s currently won 22 of the last 24, despite playing much of that without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang, and Paul Martin. He’s done one hell of a job integrating assorted new pieces Brenden Morrow, Jarome Iginla, Douglas Murray, and Jussi Jokinen into a tightly knit locker room.

We always give praise to Ray Shero for having the balls to make essential moves, but it’s about time we recognize the coach who is both easy to play for, tactically superb, and pretty damn good at what he does. Bylsma’s system has been at it’s fullest degree that we’ve ever seen in his four years with the team over these last 20 some games. Just enjoy it.

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