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Get to Know a Penguin: Matt Cullen

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As part of the build-up to the second-round playoff series between the Capitals and the Penguins, Japers' Rink will be looking at some of the important but perhaps lesser-known players on the Penguins and how they might impact the series.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Cullen

#7 / Center / Pittsburgh Penguins

6-1 |  200 |  November 2, 1976

Virginia, MN |  35th, 1996 (Anaheim)

Assets Is a very creative player that is usually aware of his surroundings. Makes smart decisions with the puck. Can play the point on power plays. Skates very well. Can also play wing, as well as center. Is a quality penalty killer.
Flaws Lacks consistency on offense, especially in the goal-scoring department. Can struggle against bigger, more dominant opponents. Injuries have been a concern at times throughout his career. Is in the twilight of his career.
Career Potential Savvy, versatile veteran forward in decline. (Assets, Flaws and Career Potential via The Hockey News player page)

Career 25-Game Rolling Five-on-Five Corsi-For Percentage:

Cullen

2015-16 Even-Strength Usage Chart:

PIT Usage

Why you should know who he is: Cullen's patience last offseason was rewarded — it took until August, but Pittsburgh offered him a one-year contract.

In contrast to his other recent stops, in Pittsburgh, Cullen was used in a more limited, defensive role. He ranked 16th league-wide in defensive-zone faceoffs taken per game and won over 55% of his total faceoffs. Cullen played a team-leading 2:32 per game on the penalty kill (his most shorthanded ice time per game in nine years) and added 3-2-5 shorthanded (his best boxcars in that situation since 2009).

Cullen also — as usual — pitched in offensively, to the tune of his best goal-scoring season since 2009. Cullen scored 13 goals and added 11 assists at 5-on-5 alone (16-16-32 overall, sixth among team forwards in scoring) while playing all 82 games. Cullen's 16 goals during the regular season came largely on the back of a 13.6 shooting percentage, well above his 9.4% career average and his 6.9-9% range in each of the previous six seasons.

Toward the end of the year, he started playing with Eric Fehr and Tom Kuhnhackl, though with Evgeni Malkin's postseason return, he was bumped down into a clear fourth-line role with Kuhnhackl and Bryan Rust.

Cullen tallied twice in the first round against the New York Rangers, while also posting a secondary assistHe scored twice against the Caps in April and had 1-1-2 on March 20 against Washington.

How the Caps can stop him: Cullen's biggest asset is his hockey sense. To that end, the Caps can ill afford to make mistakes in dangerous parts of the ice. Unlike the Flyers' bottom-six forwards, Cullen (and other members of the Penguins' bottom-six) can make reasonably skilled plays to turn those mistakes into goals, and Cullen has a knack for pouncing on loose pucks and getting lost in the slot.

That said, Cullen's physical tools are clearly in decline, and furthermore, he's not one to dangle through a defense or attempt a highlight-reel pass. As long as the Caps pay attention to detail in their own end and make sure they have Cullen covered on the backcheck, he shouldn't pose too much of a threat at 5-on-5. And at 5-on-4, the Caps need to avoid getting too cute with plays at the blueline so as to not surrender opportunities for a counterattack — opportunities an aggressive Penguins penalty kill would be happy to take.

Previously: Matt Murray | Patric Hornqvist