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The Bad: Two Penguins The Sullivan System Has Hurt

Ben Lovejoy has fallen through the cracks of the Sullivan high-tempo system

Ben Lovejoy has fallen through the cracks of the Sullivan high-tempo system

Yesterday we discussed who looks the best on the Penguins under the new system Mike Sullivan has implemented. Today, we are going to do the opposite and examine two players who look the opposite of improved and not very good at all. Believe it or not this was so easy it’s kind of sad. The contrast between the improvement of Letang and Crosby, the continued excellence of Malkin and Fleury, and these two couldn’t be more stark.

Jeff Zatkoff

Oh, Jeff Zatkoff. Poor, poor, Jeff Zatkoff. Always a bridesmaid and never a bride. Always a back-up. He had his job stolen by rookie Matt Murray in the AHL last season, then his chance to be the team’s starter when Fleury was concussed ended abruptly when Murray proved himself once again. I feel bad because he isn’t a bad goalie, but he just isn’t getting it done for the Penguins.

Before Sullivan, Zatkoff was a respectable goalie who was stopping plenty of shots. He faced 50 in a 4-3 win early this season. Then something happened. Whether it was the change in emphasis that calls on the Penguins netminders to be ready for a grade A chance at any moment or the overall faster pace, it’s hard to tell.

What it is exactly doesn’t matter though. The fact remains that these Penguins could have stolen a point in St. Louis if Zatkoff had been better. He wasn’t and no amount of Mike Bales goalie magic has seemed to help him over the last month. It might be time to get Matt Murray in down the stretch for the oodles of divisional back to backs we have coming up.

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy and Brian Dumoulin were the Penguins best defensemen under former head coach Mike Johnston. They shut opponents down, they successfully played against teams’ top lines, and they generally looked decent on a team that was being pulled down by Rob Scuderi. The new regime, however, is much faster than the old one and while Dumoulin and his young legs have adapted quite ably, Lovejoy looks anything but able.

Since the hiring of Sullivan, Lovejoy has been a minus eight times. Now, plus/minus isn’t the best stat but when you’re trying to be a shutdown guy and you’re a minus in almost half of your games, that’s not good. It’s also become apparent that when a goal is scored by the opposition in a Penguins game, if you look around Lovejoy is probably the closest defenseman.

Recently, the team recalled young defenseman Derrick Pouliot. They reunited him with Lovejoy who he played with quite ably last season during the team’s injury-laden run into the playoffs. This has illustrated Lovejoy’s short comings more because without Dumoulin no one has been around to help fix his mistakes. It’s also really underlined how talented Dumoulin is because the guy has managed to drag around Scuderi and Lovejoy both with moderate success.

What about Ben though? What can be done? Well, his contract is almost up so my first suggestion is a trade someplace for a pick or two. He obviously can still play but needs to be on a team with a system more like the one Johnston had instituted where structure is the name of the game. Another option is, since he isn’t costing too much at $1.3 million, is just sitting him. Playing Cole, who has struggled this season but has more speed in his game, and Pouliot who it’s clear has graduated from the AHL is the better move.

These two Penguins are clearly the weak links on a team that is moving away from letting weak links be weak for the sake of “intangibles”. Plenty of players can bring better hop and energy for the same price tags. There still is time for them to improve after the All-Star break but the trade deadline is approaching fast and Jim Rutherford has made it clear if you’re not helping you’re not going to be around too long in Pittsburgh.

Leah is a hockey and city life contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. She is a 2013 graduate from the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State University.