I could use a lot of different words to describe the kind of season and playoffs Rob Scuderi is having for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
None of them are good.
Old. Slow. Flat. Past his prime. I could keep going, but for fear of a blood pressure spike, I’ll stop there.
The bottom line is this: Rob Scuderi has been the worst defenseman on a Penguins team that saw more than its fair share of defensive breakdowns against the Blue Jackets in the first round.
His play saw a slight increase once he was paired with Robert Bortuzzo in games five and six, however Bortuzzo’s injection into the lineup was due to Brooks Orpik missing the final two games with a lower-body injury.
The Penguins have two options going forward: either try and fix the problem in the second round against the Rangers, or take away the problem completely and remove Scuderi as a point of contention.
The best bet to fix the problem would be to keep playing Scuderi with Bortuzzo, a playoff style defenseman whose physicality seemed to bring a bolt of energy to a Pens team that was sorely lacking in that department.
How much of a boost did Scuderi get, well according to the wonderful people over at extraskater.com, a pretty damn big one.
Using FF% (Fenwick For %), its pretty clear that the Penguins gave up way fewer shots directed towards the net with Bortuzzo playing with Scuderi than without him when the pair was on the ice in the first round against the Jackets.*
*Note: FF% is a measure of the total shots directed at the net in a game, not including blocked shots. For example, if a player has a FF% 0f 55%, that means that player’s team took 55% of the shots when that player was on the ice.
Rob Scuderi FF% – Last Six Games:
Games without Bortuzzo (first four games):
April 16th- 40.9%
April 19th- 38.7%
April 21st – 64.3%
April 23rd – 34.5%
Games with Bortuzzo (last two):
April 26th – 54.2%
April 28th – 73.3%
That’s an almost 20% increase, on average, in FF% for Scuderi with Bortuzzo in the lineup, a huge increase.
If you extrapolate those numbers out to the Penguins as whole, it tells a similar story. Through the first four games, Pittsburgh struggled to find its footing with a desperate Columbus team, and the results were pretty even, with Pittsburgh averaging just 50.6% team FF% through four games.
In the final two games, both of which Pittsburgh won, their FF% was an average of 58.5%, nearly 9% higher. Simply put, the Penguins dominate possession at a higher rate with Scuds and Bortuzzo as the third pair.
So, clearly it behooves the Pens to play Scuderi with Bortuzzo, if they play him at all.
But here’s the thing: like I said before, Bortuzzo was only in the lineup because of Orpik’s injury. If and when Orpik comes back, he’s not going to be scratched for Bortuzzo, and nor should he be.
Orpik is Pittsburgh’s most veteran defenseman and a leader in the locker room, and while that may speak to the quality, or rather lack there of, of Pittsburgh’s defensive depth as well, a Penguins team without Orpik in the playoffs would be a disaster.
A healthy Orpik means Scuderi playing with either Kris Letang or Matt Niskanen, and Bortuzzo riding shotgun in the owner’s box.
Which brings us to option two: eliminating the problem.
The only way Bortuzzo plays against the Rangers is if Scuderi is a healthy scratch, which at this point seems like the better of the two options.
Scratching Orpik for Bortuzzo would be the wrong move, however scratching Scuds for Bortuzzo might be just what the doctor ordered.
Like I said, Bortuzzo is a playoff style-defenseman. He brings size, a long reach, and some serious snarl if need be.
He’s good enough in his own right to handle Scuderi’s workload as a third-pairing d-man, and while I wouldn’t dress him in place of Orpik, I’d most definitely dress him in place of Scuderi.
It’s not a lack of effort from Scuderi, it just looks like father time has finally caught up with him. He simply can’t do it anymore, and he’s bringing the Penguins down with him.
Obviously the Penguins defensive issues don’t end with Scuderi on the sidelines, but it takes a huge part of the problem out of the equation.
You want to fix Rob Scuderi? Give Bortuzzo the nod.