We've all known the story of the 2011 Penguins are a seemingly never-ending wave of injuries, one after another. From superstars to rookie call-ups, no one has been exempted. Luckily the schedule is about to provide a little break.
Surprisingly, the upcoming Christmas holiday doesn't have much to do with it. The Pens don't have games from the 23rd to the 27th and will get a few days away from the rink for the holiday, but starting tonight (against the NHL leading Chicago Blackhawks) Pittsburgh will play five games in twelve days. A relatively light stretch for NHL regular season, but games are on the schedule still.
Then 2012 will start with a gift for the Penguins. After taking on the New Jersey Devils on New Years Eve at 3:00, the Pens don't make their 2012 debut until January 6th. That's almost a week of rest and practice, which has to look like a Godsend for not only the injured players but also the dinged up guys having to shoulder a bigger burden in the absence of the injured.
They had better make that break count, because in the build-up to the All-Star Break (from Jan 6-24) Pittsburgh plays a ridiculous 11 games in 17 nights. But then there's a nice one week break at the end of that tunnel (Jan 25-Jan 31).
Will Deryk Engelland be receiving a call for this hit on Chicago's Marcus Kruger?
It looks pretty nasty, Engelland definitely leaves his feet and makes contact high on Kruger. The Shana-ban has been a little inconsistent lately (Matt Rinaldo escaped supplemental discipline for his high hit on Simon Despres) but that shouldn't absolve what Engelland did.
To make matters worst, John Scott - a man who's in the NHL to stick up for his teammates- did just that and earned an instigator that the Pens were able to cash into a power play goal. Despite the fact Pittsburgh benefits, it goes to show how horrible the instigator is. It should be removed. Technically there's at least one instigator for every single fist fight, isn't there? Just another paradox in the complex legality of the issue about fighting in the NHL.
Move over Marshawn Lynch, Evgeni Malkin is the new beast mode. Since Sidney Crosby went down earlier this month Malkin's been so superlative there aren't enough adjectives to describe him Geno's been a puck magnet and almost every time he touches the puck in the offensive zone he's seemingly creating a scoring chance for himself or a teammate. He's up to a tie in the league in points, and had Malkin not missed seven games to knee soreness, he'd probably lead the league now. Everyone remembers how great Malkin was in 2009, and he's definitely reverting to that form. Kudos to him for shrugging off a few bad years and troubling injuries to show the world he is indeed one of the handful of best players in the world.
More after the jump..
You can't talk Malkin without mentioning James Neal. If you made a perfect winger in a lab, wouldn't it pretty much be James Neal? He's big, can play physical, will go to the net, has an awesome shot, forechecks and backchecks well, skates well, willing to hit, can play in the corners and has a dynamic shot and natural scoring touch.
A lot has been made about Neal's contract status for next season (he'll be a restricted free agent this summer) and with some CBA uncertainty, who knows how Ray Shero and Neal's side will play the negotiations. If I was Shero though, I'd point to Bobby Ryan (5 years, $5.1 million per year) and see if that's a good starting point. Can the Pens afford it without having to trade a piece away? It'd probably depend on the salary cap, but as fans I wouldn't really worry. Shero and assistant Jason Boterill have the numbers game mapped out with scenarios and details that we can't even understand or would think about.
It's December 21st. Pascal Dupuis has as many points as Alex Ovechkin, Henrik Zetterberg and Patrick Marleau. Dupuis has more points currently than Vincent Lecavalier, Rick Nash, Dany Heatley and Martin St. Louis. Hockey sure is a funny game sometimes, but what a performance so far this season by Dupuis. If there was an end-of-season award for "Role Player of the year" Duper would have to be the favorite at this point. He can pretty much do it all, and other than entry level contracts you'd be hard pressed to find a better bargain for the $1.5 million salary he draws.