Debating whether the Penguins need to get tougher is easy talk-radio fodder.
Fans demand revenge. Coaches and players don’t.
The era of "goon as deterrent" is dead, as witnessed by the dwindling number of thugs on NHL rosters. I’m not sure how much was ever actually deterred. Tom Sestito playing 90 seconds a night won’t stop Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky from cross-checking Sidney Crosby. Once the playoffs start, nobody dresses an enforcer.
The Penguins need to be the Penguins. That doesn’t entail getting tougher.
When the Penguins tried to out-Flyer Philadelphia, the result was that shambolic first-round loss in 2012.
When the Penguins stayed true to their identity through 106 games last season, the result was a Stanley Cup.
The best retaliation to opposition shenanigans is scoring on the power play. The Penguins’ PP ranks fourth in the NHL with a 22.5 conversion percentage. They have 40 power-play goals, more than any team besides Tampa Bay.
Phil Kessel may be the MVP of the Pens’ power play. He has a team-high 23 power-play points, and his distribution from the left half-wall has made him an effective reset point. Patric Hornqvist bull-rushes the blue paint. Crosby provides exquisite touch in the same area.
Justin Schultz has supplanted Kris Letang on the top power play, but Letang’s superior zone entries shouldn’t be discounted.
When Evgeni Malkin returns from injury, the power play will add yet another explosive element.
The power play is a deterrent. Manufactured thuggery that goes against the Penguins’ grain for the sake of satisfying fan bleating is not.