The Pittsburgh Penguins have played 44 games in the lockout shortened season so far this year, and it’s pretty interesting to take a look at the iron man crew that has been able to suit up for all 44 of them. Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Brandon Sutter, Matt Cooke, Craig Adams, Brooks Orpik and Tanner Glass. That’s the list.
Interestingly, all of those players play with a physical edge. Five of them (Dupuis, Sutter, Adams, Glass and Orpik) are regulars and key components of what’s been a disappointing penalty kill unit this season. Five of the seven guys are 31+ years old and between them they have their names on the Cup seven times.
Guys listed above are the type that teams win Stanley Cups with. They’re back-bone players and important supporting pieces to the puzzle.
Now, with four games in six days to finish the regular season, and some star players hopefully returning to healthy during that period, Dan Bylsma’s challenge is going to be finding the right fit. Who to rest, who to play? How will he manage the lineup to maximize the team’s momentum and chemistry without totally burning out key parts before the real race of the playoffs even begins?
It’ll be an interesting challenge for Bylsma. The Pens are in a very fortunate position to have the top seed in the East locked up heading into this final week of the regular season. It’s a much more favorable place to be then to have to scratch and claw for playoff seeding until the very end, because it gives the team the opportunity to get some rest.
The Pens can’t, and won’t, “take their foot off the gas” completely. They’re not going to trot out AHL caliber lineups or scratch their top 15 players going down the stretch. It’d get them rested, but it’s not a way to head into the playoffs when teams are firing on all cylinders come Game 1.Still, Bylsma should look to spell his veterans a little. The coach has been pretty generous this season, especially in the last month, at cancelling practices outright or making them optional skates, he understands that his club and isn’t a hardline guy. The Pensblog laid out arguments about if Cooke should play in Ottawa tonight (a place where he could be targeted) but I think it’s worth it to play him there. Cooke is often a marked man, and if any Senators spend any amount of time worrying about Matt Cooke instead of playing the game, that’s a huge advantage for the Penguins. Playing Cooke tonight could be a useful diversion for the Pens, I’d do it. He’s Matt Cooke, he’s there to stir the pot.
This last week of the regular season the results don’t matter, but how the team plays and getting to May 1st as healthy, re-charged and in full form does. Given the overwhelming pressure on the team to now make a run for the Stanley Cup, how they’ll be judged, and a big chunk of Dan Bylsma’s legacy is going to be written very soon. And it all starts now as they gear up for the playoffs.