I see it every day. And I love it.
I, too, am a big Robert Bortuzzo fan. He has grown substantially as an NHL defenseman this season, and I have no doubt he will permanently reside in the top-six next season. Heck of a good guy, too.
But what about these playoffs? Should he be in the lineup?
Ideally, yes, you’d find room. The Penguins could use his snarl. But there is a problem.
Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik won’t be split by the coaching staff, so discussing such a possibility is pointless. (Not saying it shouldn’t be explored, but I don’t expect it will be. More on this later.)
The citizens badly want Rob Scuderi removed from the lineup. So, here are some possible looks.
I don’t like the above look. Niskanen and Bortuzzo have played together a little bit, but not in quite some time. Plus, this leaves Letang and Maatta – a talented but dangerous defensive pairing – as your likely second unit.
Everyone will go crazy for this pairing. And hey, I love Maatta and Bortuzzo together, too. They were terrific in October. But Letang and Niskanen absolutely do not work together. It was first attempted early in the 2013 regular season. Didn’t work. We’ve seen glimpses of it since, notably in the 2013 playoffs and in spurts this season. Doesn’t work.
I like the first two pairings. The third one? Not so much. Bortuzzo and Letang have never played together. You’d be asking one of them to play on the left side, something either has ever done in the NHL. Niskanen, a right-handed defenseman, is rarely because he likes playing on the left side. Most don’t.
OK, so let’s be frank. It might be time for the Penguins to try something crazy, especially if they lose Game 5 to the Blue Jackets.
Would they split Martin and Orpik? Like I said earlier, I can’t imagine they would.
But I’d suggest this: The Penguins aren’t winning the Stanley Cup – or coming remotely close to playing for it – if they don’t get the most out of Letang. They must have him play great hockey.
Who has Letang always played his best hockey with? That would be Brooks Orpik.
So, if you want Scuderi out of the lineup and Bortuzzo in, I only see one possibility.
Tell me what you think about this:
Now, this is kind of intriguing, no?
Letang and Orpik have a history, and it’s a good one. Martin and Niskanen have played a little together, and have been good together. Their styles and skill sets are very similar. They’re both from Minnesota, for God’s sake. They’re both playing exceptionally good hockey right now.
Maatta and Bortuzzo? It’s an extremely young pairing, but they were great together earlier this season. Plus, you could really limit their minutes and ride the top four.
It’s just a thought.
Realistically, the Letang/Scuderi pairing has been something of a disaster. I’m not suggesting Scuderi should be removed from the lineup, but the Penguins do have some options here.
They better pick the correct option quickly.