With the Penguins playing with just 17 skaters instead of the usual 18 last night in Carolina, general manager Jim Rutherford has been given one cap-free call up by the NHL to alleviate his roster emergency.
Hey may not need to use it, as center Evgeni Malkin is close to returning to action (he was a full participant in practice today). Still, the possibility exists that Rutherford may look to improve the play of his forward group with some help from down on the farm.
Some in the Pittsburgh media have been in clamoring for the return of rookie forward Bobby Farnham from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, going as far as to create the #FreeFarnham hashtag. Farnham, if you’ll recall, played like he was the lead actor in an Allstate mayhem commercial during his last stint with the Penguins.
In 11 games with the big club earlier this season, he scored no points, took just six shots, and racked up 24 penalty minutes while averaging just 7:11 of ice time.
The Penguins have numerous problems with their forward group. They aren’t scoring enough, they’ve struggled on the power play, and when things aren’t going their way, they seem to lose their composure all to easily.
Over the last 10 games, the Penguins are just 3-5-2. If you throw out three games against bottom feeders Carolina, Arizona and Edmonton, they are just 1-4-2 against the teams that are still trying to win games.
In those 10 games, they’ve scored only 17 goals (1.7 goals per game) and they are 3-for-31 (9.6%) on the power play. Buffalo, who has the league’s worst offense and worst power play, is converting at 12.7% on the season with a man advantage and averages 1.8 goals per game.
Certainly, Bobby Farnham isn’t going to fix the power play. His career 0.0 shooting percentage isn’t inspiring of his ability to create offense at even strength. Neither is the fact that 180 career AHL games, he has just 36 points (0.2 points per game), and he is currently 17th in scoring in Wilkes-Barre, tied with defensive defenseman Scott Harrington with 11 points.
What Farnham does bring to the table – grit, energy, whatever you want to call it – the Penguins don’t need. They have enough players that can provide that right now. Steve Downie leads the NHL in penalty minutes. Max Lapierre was specifically brought in to be hard to play against in the playoffs. Craig Adams, Brandon Sutter and Nick Spaling are sufficient forecheckers and penalty killers. The problem is that none of those players are helping the offense score goals, and Farnham wouldn’t either.
As for the bit about composure, I’m not suggesting that Farnham doesn’t have it, but his potential teammates in Pittsburgh clearly do not. Farnham’s mayhem will cause the type of special teams and penalty-filled games that these Penguins always seem to find a way to lose. In games in which they’ve received 30 penalty minutes or more, the Penguins are 2-5-2 this season. That’s not going to win many playoff series.
So if not Farnham, then who? There really isn’t a player in Wilkes-Barre that is going to help the Penguins score more goals. The two leading scorers in WBS, Conor Sheary and Tom Kostopoulos, aren’t even on NHL contracts. Center Andrew Ebbett has been very productive in the AHL, but he is more of a passer than a shooter, and with linemates such as Lapierre and Adams, the player passing them the puck is largely irrelevant.
Expanding the search even more, the Penguins could bring in first-round pick Kasperi Kapanen after his season ends in Finland. The young forward’s skill level is unquestionable, but he’s scored just 11 goals for his Finnish team this season and is still only 18 years old. He’s hardly a lock to be a productive NHL player at this point.
If Kapanen came in and was given a top-6 opportunity, he may have a chance to succeed, but the Penguins track record suggests that he would more likely be the square peg being jammed into the round hole that Beau Bennett currently occupies. The two are similar players. The results would likely be the same.
Penguins fans may not like to hear it, and it certainly doesn’t make for very good talk radio, but if this team is going to step its play up to a level that is going to allow them to seriously compete for the Stanley Cup, that improvement is going to have to come from within.
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