Mark Madden: John Marino makes immediate impact with Penguins |
Mark Madden, Columnist

Mark Madden: John Marino makes immediate impact with Penguins

Mark Madden
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins’ John Marino gathers the puck against the Blue Jackets in the second period Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.

The Penguins made one mistake with rookie defenseman John Marino: He should wear No. 13.

Penguins jerseys with “Marino” and No. 13 on the back would have great potential for sales, especially in Oakland. Get Brandon Tanev a different number.

Otherwise, all systems are go with the rookie pro out of Harvard.

It’s only one game, but Marino made mostly good decisions with and without the puck in Thursday’s 2-1 home victory over Anaheim. He doubtless benefited by the Penguins showing a rare 60-minute commitment to structure, but Marino contributed to that.

Marino isn’t a hulk like Erik Gudbranson, the man he replaced in the lineup. But he’s 6-foot-1, 181 pounds and is Gudbranson’s superior in skating and skill. Marino’s rights were acquired in a trade with Edmonton this past off-season, and management has been in love with him from the moment he set foot on the ice at training camp.

Marino is fearless. He takes chances. One of his few botches Thursday conceded an odd-man break.

But the Penguins want to play fast. Playing Marino instead of Gudbranson is further commitment to that.

Playing Juuso Riikola instead of Jack Johnson would be even further commitment to that. But Johnson seems bulletproof after a training camp that seemed to point at him being a healthy scratch.

Johnson, however, had a decent game partnered with Marino on Thursday, and is integral to the penalty kill. The latter fact may be what’s keeping Johnson in the lineup as much as anything.

The Penguins want to play fast, just like when they won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and ‘17.

But the Penguins aren’t as fast as they were then. Much of the NHL has caught up in that regard, too.

But if that remains their focus, Marino replacing Gudbranson makes sense — though it does invite negative focus on the trade that brought Gudbranson and his $4 million cap hit to Pittsburgh just this past Feb. 25.

But that’s one of general manager Jim Rutherford’s qualities: He recognizes mistakes and fixes them.

Some problems aren’t easily remedied, however.

Before the season began, Rutherford reportedly tried to trade Johnson and his $3.25 million cap hit on a contract that runs through 2023. There were no takers.

Now Gudbranson is supposedly on the block, but moving his $4 million cap hit on a deal that goes through 2021 will be equally difficult.

Bigger, physical blueliners that lack mobility are negligible currency in today’s NHL. The Penguins have validated that by dressing Marino over Gudbranson.

The Penguins’ ride is a bit rough because of an incredible list of injuries, most notably to star center Evgeni Malkin.

But, like always, Sidney Crosby gives them a chance.

It’s tough to lose faith in the Penguins because it’s impossible to lose faith in Crosby. He’s got six points in four games and has at least one point in each contest.

The captain played 24 minutes in the victory over Anaheim and was so omnipresent, it was as if he’d split in two. The Ducks knew they were in trouble when Crosby started doing give-and-gos with himself.

Crosby had a goal and assist, setting up Jake Guentzel for the third-period winner after appearing to briefly go into orbit.

Crosby’s 200-foot game also sparkled, and he won 60 percent of his face-offs. Crosby had a rough night on draws in the season opener so, as is Crosby’s wont, he solved the problem and dominated moving forward.

Crosby fixes things. Maybe Rutherford should let Crosby try to trade Gudbranson.

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