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Mack: Time For Sullivan To Embrace McCann, Blueger

With Hornqvist & Kessel Struggling, Youngsters Have Stepped Up

March 26, 2019 - 1:26 pm

Related: Penguins Surge To 5-2 Win Over Rangers

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - Since February 1st, the Pittsburgh Penguins have turned their season around. 

It all started with General Manager Jim Rutherford's trade of Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann. Since the deal, the Penguins have gone 15-7-5 and with just five games remaining sit just one point out of the Metro Division lead. They've lost consecutive games in regulation just once. 

Matt Murray's been one of a handful of the best goalies in the league in that time frame, Sidney Crosby's excellence has continued on a consistent basis, and despite injuries to Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin, the Pens continue to roll toward the postseason with a youthful infusion of top-end talent that until just a couple of months ago was buried in locales on the edges of the Everglades and the Poconos, respectfully. 

Make no mistake about it, Jared McCann and Teddy Blueger, who were toiling for the Panthers and Baby Pens, respectively, earlier this winter, belong in any discussions of Top 6 forwards for Mike Sullivan to choose from with the Stanley Cup Playoffs looming, regardless of what the back of Phil Kessel's and Patric Hornqvist's hockey cards say or how many zeros fill out their paychecks.

Numbers don’t lie, and in this case, the math is simple: Since February 1st, both McCann and Blueger sit in the team’s Top 6 in goal scoring. McCann has done it up-and-down the lineup, potting 11 goals whether it be while fitting well with Crosby & Jake Guentzel on the top unit or looking comfortable with Kessel & Blueger recently. Blueger’s done it all over the lineup as well, netting six goals in 22 games, but with less ice time per contest than anyone on the team not named Matt Cullen or Garrett Wilson.

Even Dominik Simon has been on the ice more than Blueger.

As have Kessel and Hornqvist.

Maybe that’s the problem.

Until Malkin left the lineup with an upper body injury this past weekend, Blueger –despite consistently producing – was on the back burner. Until McCann got a chance to play with Crosby, he was as well.

Maybe Mike Sullivan should thank the gift horse who presented him with the 22-year old McCann and 24-year old Blueger and show his appreciation by committing to keeping both of them on the 2nd line, even after Malkin’s return.

They’ve only combined for 17 even strength goals since that February 1st date.

For what it’s worth, I think Rutherford is the gift horse in this case. And if the head coach continues to eschew the two talented youngsters in favor of the 31-year old Kessel and 32-year old Hornqvist, who’ve combined for zero – yes, you read that correctly: ZERO – even strength goals during the same timeframe, you can guess which part of the horse Sully is.​

 

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