Penguins hope Scuderi's style helps them in postseason
Rob Scuderi is back for what is about to happen.
The Stanley Cup playoffs open next week, and the Penguins believe their missing piece will make an impact.
“When he's playing his best, he settles down our entire (defense),” assistant coach Todd Reirden said Friday. “We brought him back with a purpose in mind, and these are the games we have him for.”
Scuderi's first season during his second stint with the Penguins did not go as planned.
He signed a four-year contract with the Penguins over the summer after four seasons in Los Angeles, where he won the Cup in 2012. A reputable stay-at-home defender, he was to provide a contrasting complement on a paring with Kris Letang.
Injuries to Scuderi (ankle) and Letang (knee, elbow and stroke) have limited them to only 13 games together, though they were reunited often in the Penguins' home shootout win over Detroit on Wednesday night.
They will play together again against Philadelphia at Consol Energy Center on Saturday afternoon. The game will not impact the Penguins' playoff positioning — they are locked into the No. 2 seed in the East — but it and one against Ottawa on Sunday night mean a lot to Scuderi.
“Considering the way our injuries have offset at different times, any time we can get is beneficial,” Scuderi said. “We watched some video again (Friday) morning to try and get on the right track.
“As long as we have a general sense of where each other is going at certain times when the puck is in a certain place, that's the biggest thing for us.”
The Olympic break was big for Scuderi, Reirden said.
During it, they worked together — mostly one-on-one drills — to help acclimate Scuderi to the Penguins' system and get him comfortable physically. A broken ankle that required surgery had kept Scuderi out of the lineup from Oct. 28-Dec. 29, a span of 29 games that essentially negated any progression from training camp and the opening month of the regular season.
Scuderi said he was “disappointed in the way I played when I came back.”
“I thought it would take me less time to get into a groove, find my game again,” Scuderi said. “It just didn't come consistently. I don't even think I was happy with half of the games I played between the Christmas and Olympic breaks.”
The past month and a half produced improvement, Reirden said, and, statistically, the past couple of weeks have proven Scuderi's best. He has been on the ice for only six goals against in the Penguins' last seven games and only five at even-strength.
“The detail in his game has changed quite a bit,” Reirden said. “On line rushes, he plays much earlier. His gap is much better, and that's allowed him to spend a little bit less time in the defensive zone. That's been the area I'm most impressed with, along with his stick-on-puck detail.”
In the typically tight-checking playoffs, Scuderi will subtly propel the Penguins, fellow defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
Scuderi's reputation as a “shutdown” defenseman was born on the Penguins' Cup Final runs in 2008 and 2009. They allowed two goals or fewer in 22 of 44 games over those postseasons. The Kings won the Cup in 2012 and reached the West final last season, and they surrendered more than two goals in only eight of 38 playoff games.
“He keeps it simple,” Orpik said. “Where you get into trouble is when you try to do a little bit too much with the puck. Teams are so good defensively in the playoffs that any mistake you make usually is in the back of your net.
“The more simple you can play, the better off you are.”
Scuderi said “simple” suits him.
“If the pass isn't there, you chip it out hard off the glass,” he said. “Not surprisingly, that plays into what I do.”
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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