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The Pittsburgh Penguins have won seven straight and 14 of 18. Teams with such records and success typically don’t have glaring holes in their roster or character to be desperate suitors on the NHL trade market, but the Penguins may have a couple. of soft spots and a physical player sitting in the press box.

Generally, I follow coach Mike Sullivan’s roster decisions. When a player doesn’t get the ice time we might expect or gets more, a deep dive and some questions follow. More often than not, at the end of my “investigation” it makes sense.

Ty Smith is a prime example. The Penguins acquired the defenseman from the New Jersey Devils when they traded John Marino to free up cap space for Jeff Petry. Smith came with a lot of promise and a bit of baggage.

We scouted him closely in the preseason, maybe a little too much. Half a dozen games in, I thought he would struggle in the NHL regular season because he would get lost in transition at times and get lost in the defensive zone. Maybe I understood that right or waiver claims prompted GM Ron Hextall to keep PO Joseph on the NHL roster.

Regardless, the decision at least made sense to most of his followers.

However, the one player role, or lack thereof, that continues to leave me scratching my head is Mark Friedman. Yes, the defender is a wild card. He was suspended for a javelin and drew a degree of hatred from the Flyers during a hockey game. Still, he’s also displayed the skating and offensive components on par with legitimate NHL defensemen.

“(Friedman) is a very good player. He’s a really driven guy. His skating is one of his biggest strengths,” Sullivan said. “He’s really tough defensively. He is a good penalty killer. He brings a little edge to his game… He’s a decent knock. So I think his mobility and defensive abilities are the strength of his game.

“And he’s been very good to us. These are not easy decisions … we have a group of probably eight or nine defensemen that are in our organization that we know are capable of playing NHL games that are NHL-caliber defensemen.”

However, Friedman seems definitively stuck as a depth defenseman and bubble NHL player.

PHN chronicled the recent struggles of the Brian Dumoulin-Jean Rutta pairings in the PHN+ report cards. They were better on home ice, but not without incident. They have been exposed to speed and attacked by opposing projections, especially on the road where home teams can have favorable matchups.

The Buffalo Sabers seemed to zero in on the pair, and the Florida Panthers caught up with them as well.

With Petrie out for at least another 18 days (as of Saturday) and eight games, the Penguins could use more mobility and offense on the blue line.

What about Mark Friedman?

Kasperi Kapane

After Kapanen returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup, he scored four goals in the first two games and was a notable presence. Since then, there have been moments, including five hits in his third game in a rematch against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but a lack of consistent play.

He has two assists in four games, though one of those was an assist.

His ice time, usually a strong indicator of what Sullivan thinks of a player that night, has ranged from nearly 13 minutes to just over 10. Power play responsibilities and opportunities also play a role, but as part of PP2, that time is usually pretty limited.

After the lightning explosion, Kapanen’s game seems to have gone down.

That’s bad news for him and the team. If he doesn’t consistently increase his scoring rate or become more consistently dangerous in the offensive zone, the spot he’s earned may not be available for a long time. As Dave Molinari pointed out on Friday, Jason Zucker’s injury is another opportunity for Danton Heinen to earn a spot.

Tapping the net

It’s become a league-wide thing and a bit of a debate, especially in the Canadian media. A few weeks ago, former Pittsburgh Penguins goaltenders Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury each crashed the net multiple times. The fans were screaming that it must be on purpose.

We’ve seen current Penguins goaltenders tangle with the iron, too.

PHN asked Casey DeSmith about the latest developments. I expected a short answer or a shrug and dismissal. Instead, he took PHN to keeper school, including demonstrations and thorough explanation. No joke, DeSmith spoke on the subject for almost three minutes.

When he was done, I understood what reverse VH was, how goaltenders changed their tactics to defend against shooters behind the goal line, and changed the boards that affected everything.

For context, a reverse VH means that instead of the goalie straight up, with the pads pointing parallel to the goal post, the goaltender will drop the nearest pad horizontally to the ice and lean against the post. See the photo below.

“My view is that it’s a reverse VC trend on the position. In the last three games, I picked the net twice and it was the exact same game. The puck goes wide and bounces,” DeSmith said. “It’s something else. The boards are really lively at most rinks. Shots on the boards go directly into the goal square. You’re at the top of the fold and then everybody’s pushed back inside the post and that reverse VH is kind of like (DeSmith showed the reverse VH).

“All are big, strong. You press as hard as you can to get back to the post… and since you’re under the ice trying to climb up, it pulls the net away. Obviously, it’s a safety issue that you can’t (nets) stuck in the ice. they should be removed for player safety.

“From a goalie perspective, I think it’s a combination of the liveliness of the boards and the prevalence of reverse VH. The carcass goes wide. You need to get back to the post asap and you guys are nailing it. Certainly not on purpose.”

DeSmith noted that goalies were playing on their feet and hugging the post. In the new style, dropping one leg horizontally, the skates get caught under the net and topple over as well.

Thanks, Casey. I feel like we all just earned a yellow belt in goalkeeping.

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