PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 07: Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates out onto the ice before the NHL game against the New Jersey Devils at Consol Energy Center on January 7, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Devils defeated the Penguins 3-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
It's become almost a cosmic joke- the Pittsburgh Penguins can't even make it through a practice without a player suffering an injury.
After losing Jordan Staal (knee injury, out 4-6 weeks) in the Rangers game on Friday night and then James Neal (broken foot, out "weeks") in the Devils game Saturday night, Penguin forward Craig Adams threw his name into the injury hat going down with an apparent serious knee injury in practice on Sunday.
Adams and Neal were two of only six players (soon to be four) that have been able to suit up for all 40 of the Penguins games this season. The lucky (?) remaining are Pascal Dupuis (who's been dinged up), Matt Cooke, Chris Kunitz and the 38-year-old, previously injury-prone Steve Sullivan.
See, I told you it was some sort of cosmic joke. The ancient, brittle, tiny Sullivan has been around for every game but nearly every other player has suffered some injury, and quite a few of them of the serious variety.
If you can't have a chuckle about that as a Penguins fan after the first half of the 2011-12 season, then you're probably in tears.
After the jump- a plan to tread water in hopes of clinging to a playoff spot, potential lines (they're frightening) and a look at who is left to pick up the pieces and keep the season going.
With three points being awarded in the standings for OT games, the NHL is designed to keep teams lumped together and make for tight finishes after 82 games. Say what you will about the methodology, but it keeps things interesting. Though teams have played a differing amount of games, it's only a six-point difference between Ottawa (50 points in 5th place) and Washington (44 points in 10th place) right now. The Pens are right in the mix of that, currently sitting in 8th place in the Conference (46 points after 40 games).
Last year, the 8th seed in the East had 93 points, the year before that 88, and the year before that 93. So keep that in mind. If the Pens can get to 94 points, they're probably making the playoffs. That means they need to get 48 points the last 42 games. That's the equivalent of going 24-18, or some variation with OT losses figured in- so a record like 22-16-4 would do the trick. That's still winning a lot more than losing, and not losing in regulation is the key.
A key could be the All-Star break from Jan 24-31. When the Pens come back on Jan 31, will they be able to add any of Staal, Neal or Kris Letang? Those guys are all-star caliber players and their additions could kick things up a notch. To say nothing about the still in limbo Sidney Crosby whose status and communication about said status has been as murky as ever.
So, not counting on those guys, what's one way to hold the fort until then? How about these lines-
It's going to be tough to win with that lineup, but in great challenges lie opportunity.
-Sullivan and Kennedy teamed with Malkin to form a wonderful, if very briefly lived, offensive line early in training camp. Playing with Kunitz hasn't seemed to suit Malkin, so why not try to open up more space for Malkin with new linemates?
-Look at that second line and its 2/3 of what used to be the first line many moons ago. No one's going to confuse Richard Park for Sidney Crosby anytime this century, but Park is an honest, hard-working player who will hustle, grind and give a good effort. That line won't have a ton of offensive pop, but they ought to be able to match up against any other line in the league.
-The third line gives Eric Tangradi yet another chance to make an impact in the NHL, and since there isn't a ton of skill (said in a way to be as kind as possible), ET25 will get a chance on the top PP screening the goalie. He may never get a better chance in the Penguins' organization to establish himself as an NHL player.
-Hey, remember that time Ray Shero kept Steve MacIntyre and waived a player who can actually play hockey in Nick Johnson? Shero doesn't whiff much, but I betcha he'd want a mulligan on that decision in hindsight.