Penguins Prediction Rewind: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin still eat up ice time
Note: Last summer, beat writer Jonathan Bombulie made a series of predictions leading up to the start of the 2017-18 season. Some of them were hilariously off the mark. In this series, Bombulie will explain what he was thinking and where his logic went off course.
Unlike last season, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin won’t both average less than 20 minutes of ice time per game.
— Crosby and Malkin are both on the other side of 30 now, but their play hasn’t slowed down appreciably. Crosby’s goal total of 44 last year was his biggest since 2009-10. Malkin’s total of 33 was his largest since 2011-12. Both players still prefer more ice time than less and they’re physically capable of handling it.
— Coach Mike Sullivan could afford to roll four lines fairly evenly in the past largely because of the quality of his third- and fourth-line centers, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen. With Bonino and Cullen gone via free agency, his bottom two lines will be centered by Carter Rowney, Jay McClement or a third-line player GM Jim Rutherford acquires in a trade. It seems likely Sullivan will be more tempted to double-shift Crosby and Malkin in big spots more than he has in the past.
In a Twitter poll, 70 percent of voters thought Crosby and Malkin would both average less than 20 minutes of ice time per game. A comment from Facebook:
“The really scary scenario is Malkin or Crosby being out for several games. Then you might see two lines centered by McKegg and McClement, neither of whom is the real McCoy.”
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED
The specific prediction – “Maybe Malkin plays fewer than 20 minutes per game, but Crosby probably won’t” – was right on the money.
Crosby’s ice time went up to 20:41 per game after sitting at 19:53 the previous season. Malkin’s ice time went up slightly, from 18:37 to 18:59.
The Penguins’ depth chart at center changed dramatically throughout the season. Carter Rowney and Greg McKegg centered the bottom six on opening night. They were pushed out of the lineup by trades for Riley Sheahan in October and Derick Brassard in February.
The trades didn’t have an appreciable impact on Crosby’s minutes. In fact, he averaged 19:54 before the Penguins added Sheahan, 20:21 after the Penguins added Brassard and 20:56 in between.
The biggest reason his ice-time total went up from the previous season was probably Sullivan’s penchant for using Crosby to take important defensive zone draws, especially late in games. He didn’t do that as much when Cullen and Bonino were on the roster.
THE FLAWS IN THE LOGIC
The logic wasn’t flawed, per se, but the whole discussion was unnecessarily complicated.
For as long as his star centers hold up physically, Sullivan is going to play Crosby around 20 or 21 minutes per game and Malkin around 18 or 19. Deviation from that standard will be measured in seconds, not minutes, and will probably be due to circumstances more than a grand plan involving elaborate double-shifting scenarios.
For a coach, handing out ice time is more an art than a science. When making predictions, it’s probably best to discuss such topics in broad strokes.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at email@example.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.