Penguins Predictions: Who will lead team in penalty minutes?
When Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin exchanged punches with Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos during a January game last season, teammate Kris Letang looked on with a combination of amusement and concern.
“Geno is always good for one fight a year. I guess that was it,” Letang said after the game. “I don’t like to see him fight. You never know what can happen if they’re falling on the ice or you punch a helmet. But he’s good for one a year. So he’s done.”
Malkin was, in fact, done. The tussle with Stamkos accounted for the only fighting major he picked up all year.
He wasn’t finished spending time in the penalty box, however.
Malkin finished the season with a team-leading 89 penalty minutes. Surprisingly, it was the third straight season the fiery Russian center led the team in PIMs.
In general, the Penguins don’t have a significant penalty problem.
They were 18th in the league in penalty minutes per game last season and were shorthanded 222 times, which was the sixth-fewest among the league’s 31 teams.
Sure, they’d prefer Malkin be in the box less and on the ice more, but on the list of issues they need to correct to improve upon last season, it’s pretty far from the top. Malkin took 25 minor penalties last season. He drew 20. That minus-5 differential isn’t exactly killing the team.
For those reasons, predicting which player will lead the team in penalty minutes is more of an exercise in statistical curiosity than a hard look at a pressing issue. That said, it’s an interesting race.
Who will lead the Penguins in penalty minutes this season?
A. Evgeni Malkin
Malkin has played at least 57 games in a season 11 times in his NHL career. He has recorded at least 60 penalty minutes in each of those seasons. In the modern NHL, 60 or 70 minutes can easily lead a team. While the offensive-zone hooking penalties are the ones that infuriate fans and coaches, Malkin is also usually good for a misconduct or two each season. He plays an emotional game.
B. Erik Gudbranson
Gudbranson was, for the most part, on his best behavior after joining the Penguins in a trade deadline deal. He picked up two measly minor penalties in 19 games played. That’s not typical for the 6-foot-5, 217-pound defenseman, however. He had 83 minutes in 57 games with Vancouver before the trade. He’s averaged about 61 PIM per season in the NHL. That puts him at least in Malkin’s league.
C. Brandon Tanev
Tanev picked up only 41 penalty minutes in a full season with Winnipeg last year, and that was an increase on his two previous seasons with the Jets. He has only recorded three fighting majors in his NHL career. Tanev shows up on this list because of his style of play. He was third in the league with 278 hits last season. Hits tend to lead to situations where referees get involved.
Marcus Pettersson was second on the team with 49 penalty minutes last year, but he’d really rather not fight if he doesn’t have to. … The last player to lead the Penguins in PIMs not named Malkin is Kris Letang, who had 66 in 2015-16. … Zach Aston-Reese is feisty. If he stays healthy, he could challenge for the top spot.
Malkin has come by his streak of three consecutive seasons leading the Penguins in penalty minutes honestly. He’s got a temper. But Gudbranson is the best fighter on the team by a wide margin. The game has changed and Gudbranson has changed with it. He’s not going to be challenging random ruffians to fights for no reason. But he’ll find himself in enough scraps to edge a 33-year-old Malkin for the PIM crown.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .