Despite a glut of early season injuries, the Pittsburgh Penguins sit with a 6-1-0 record after the first seven games of the season. James Neal has only played a period all season, Kris Letang has missed it all, as has Tomas Vokoun. Throw in Beau Bennett has being hurt for the last three games and newcomer Matt D’Agostini going to LTIR from the very get-go and it’s been a challenging season already for Pittsburgh in terms of injuries..
No matter, mainly under the strength of Sidney Crosby’s 14 points and Marc-Andre Fleury’s 6-0-0 record with a .932 save percentage, aided by some great performances by the whole defensive unit, the Penguins have continued to pull out wins, with contributions up and down their lineup from 1st line to 4th line alike.
But here’s a sobering thought- the combined records of the teams the Pens have played so far this season stands at 13-34-8. That’s brutally poor. Pittsburgh hasn’t played a team yet this season that made the playoffs last year, and other than the Tampa Bay Lightning (5-2-0) and maybe Carolina Hurricanes (3-2-3) they haven’t played teams this season who look like they’re headed anywhere outside of the basement of their divisions.
That quality of competition is about to change, in a very big way. Over the next week the Pens play four games against teams with a 20-8-2 record this season (Vancouver, Colorado, NY Islanders, Toronto). All of those teams, save the electric looking 6-1-0 Avs, made the playoffs last season.
Letang seems close to returning and perhaps Bennett and D’Agostini will not be far behind him. But Neal and Vokoun aren’t walking through that door any time soon and the depth of the team is tested.
While Crosby and Fleury have been the main engines propelling the Pens to victory, more still have to keep stepping up if Pittsburgh is to get out of this tough stretch without going on a losing streak. Craig Adams, Chuck Kobasew and Tanner Glass have produced early and gotten well-deserved opportunities to play more minutes and on better lines. Can they continue to chip in? It’s hard to ask Evgeni Malkin (3g, 5a in seven games) to do much more, but it seems like he still has an extra gear he could kick it into. Pascal Dupuis only has 2 goals on the season, can he help fill the net? Brandon Sutter’s sitting without a goal, it’d be nice to see him provide a little more secondary scoring in this stretch too. Paul Martin’s on the top power play unit and only has 1 goal and 1 assist with the man advantage in seven games- he could probably stand to make a play or two as well.
In the poll (and make your case below) weigh in with the player do you think is the most crucial performer in the next week to help the Pens have a shot at winning.