Left wingers lacking scoring punch for Penguins this season
TAMPA, Fla. — With one exception, the Penguins have roster cornerstones they have built their franchise around at every position.
At center, it's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. In goal, it's Marc-Andre Fleury.
On defense, it's Kris Letang and Olli Maatta. On the right wing, it's Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist.
The exception is the left wing, and it has been a glaring exception this season.
Chris Kunitz has six goals to lead the pack of Penguins left wings.
David Perron, a right-handed shot who generally prefers playing on the left side, has four goals.
Pascal Dupuis had two before he had to cut his career short because of blood clots.
Conor Sheary had one before being sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Sergei Plotnikov, Kevin Porter, Scott Wilson, Bobby Farnham and Tom Kuhnhackl have none.
While stopping short of saying he actively is looking for a left wing in the trade market, general manager Jim Rutherford admitted it is an area of his roster that he has been evaluating for a while now.
“I've looked at this back at the end of last season,” Rutherford said. “If you look at anchors, if you want to call it that, at each position, that's the one position we don't have the main anchor, if you will, long term. It's a very fair point.”
If the Penguins don't make a deal for a left wing who can score, they will have to pursue internal options.
One could be a call-up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Dominik Simon, for example, is a left-handed forward who is among the AHL's leaders in rookie scoring this season with 12 goals and 27 points.
However, expecting a 21-year-old with 37 games of experience on North American ice to come up from the minors and fill such a significant hole is asking a lot.
They also could move one of their right wingers to his off side, a move that has had mixed results at best over the past few seasons.
Hornqvist and Kessel will play on the left side if they have to, but they are more comfortable on the right. The same goes for Beau Bennett, who is injured.
“You don't have to think that much out there. That's what it is,” Hornqvist said. “You've been playing on the right side for 10 years. It's just a habit to backcheck on that side, go in your zone on that side, curl that way. It's less thinking out there for me. Your habits are still there.”
The path of least resistance in the Penguins' quest to get scoring from the left side might be to get Perron going.
A three-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL, he is stuck in the throes of an 18-game goal drought.
Perron took to the practice ice before his teammates the past two days in Tampa, dumping a bucket of pucks out on the ice and taking shot after shot, like a golfer trying to cure a slice by banging buckets of balls at the driving range.
“If you're not getting out of it any other way, you have to try some new things,” Perron said. “So, I shot a lot of pucks and things like that, put emphasis on it more. We do get a lot of shots at practice, but maybe double or triple the load.
“Hopefully I'm just seeing the puck go in and getting that feeling again. There's no reason I shouldn't be scoring right now.”