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.
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.