Feb 3, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) handles the puck in the corner against the Ottawa Senators during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins Gameday Skate: Should Brandon Sutter Move Aside For Marcel Goc?

Feb 27, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Montreal Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin (74) battles for the puck with Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Even since he arrived via trade in the summer of 2012, Brandon Sutter has consistently manned the Pittsburgh Penguins’ third-line center role.

The 25-year-old former Hurricane has several things going for him. He’s durable, having not missed a single game since 2009-10. He kills penalties; Sutter is on the ice for nearly 45 percent of the Penguins’ total shorthanded time this season, 19th-most among NHL forwards.

Beyond penalty-killing duty, Sutter defends well in all situations, as just 19 goals have been scored against the Penguins when he’s on the ice – by far the best mark among Pittsburgh regulars.

His offensive numbers so far this year (10g, 11a) have him just shy of his career rate of .37 points per game, although his possession stats (-8.4% Corsi relative) haven’t been kind in comparison to his teammates. However, his rotating cast of middling wingers help explain why Sutter’s line has been chasing the puck more than they’d like.

Sutter was mentioned frequently as trade bait with the Penguins pursuing Canucks center Ryan Kesler, but instead he will remain in Pittsburgh after general manager Ray Shero elected to add forward depth in Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc.

Related: “Boring” deadline moves could have big impact for Penguins

On first blush, Shero’s moves seemed beneficial to Sutter. Finally, he’d have legitimate NHLers to skate with, assuming Stempniak doesn’t get placed on the top line. But a potential issue could lurk with Goc, as the 30-year-old German is a natural center like Sutter.

Goc has similar numbers to Sutter this season, with 11 goals and 12 assists in 62 games. Despite being employed against difficult competition and starting most of his shifts in the defensive zone, Goc still managed to drive play better than most of his Panthers teammates, as his +1.8% Corsi relative would indicate.

Shero and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma made some noise Wednesday about Goc potentially playing winger, but maybe Sutter should be the one making the move to the flank, or even bumping down to center the fourth line. Goc’s 52.8 percent success rate in the faceoff circle further accentuates that he should be used in the middle, at least at first.

By most measures, Goc has been the better player this season, so Sutter should adjust to him, rather than vice versa.

Tonight’s Game: Penguins (41-16-4, 86 points – 1st Metropolitan) at Sharks (39-17-7, 85 points – 2nd Pacific) at San Jose’s SAP Center
Faceoff: 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh (local), NBC Sports Network (national)
Radio: 105.9 The X

Goc and Stempniak didn’t make it to the Bay Area in time to take the morning skate, but both should be in the lineup tonight. Jeff Zatkoff will start in net for the Penguins, opposing the Sharks’ Antti Niemi.

Former Pittsburgh forward Tyler Kennedy didn’t skate this morning with the Sharks, so he’s doubtful to face his former club.

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Tags: Brandon Sutter Marcel Goc NHL Trade Deadline Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Jeff Webster

    I think it should be Sutter’s job to lose. Try Goc at an off-position first and see how he fares. I have a feeling that Bylsma will give Stempniak somes shifts on the #1 unit, but would prefer to see Bennett or Megna there when healthy. If we’ve seen anything over the years, it’s been teams abilities to shutdown our top two units. Having Goc with Sutter gives us a great shutdown line with some upside potential to score. Bylsma can then load of the 4th unit as an energy line, Adams-Vitale-Pyatt, whose role is to go out and bang bodies and stir things up when they’re sent over the boards.

    • Matt Gajtka

      I like that fourth line. In the end it’s probably not ideal to have Sutter on a true fourth line, although with PK factored in he probably gets enough ice time anyway. I’m with you on Bennett and/or Megna as well…they seem to be the youngsters with the biggest offensive upside.

      • Jeff Webster

        Whatever the choice, Bylsma will need to figure it out quickly so the lines can get some chemistry. I almost inclined to see Megna or Stempniak up with Sid, as both would bring a bit more in terms of a physical edge. Bennett would give Sutter a high-skill guy on his line. Seems like it may take a few games to work all of these new guys into solid spots.

        • Matt Gajtka

          I thought what we saw late last night was interesting…namely, Sid-Kunitz-Stempniak, Malkin-Neal-Pyatt, Sutter-Jokinen on the third line and Goc filling in on the bottom two units. Looks like Bylsma may be trying to spread out the talent a bit more.