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Depth issues: real or imagined

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We like James Mirtle in the Penguins blogosphere.  He's one of the mainstream media members that's like us: young, willing to use stats to explain the game.  Mirtle writes better than us and has a big time job, but he's still in touch with the blog world (even comments here occasionally).

That said, his column today "Pens battle depth issues" misses the mark.  He doesn't deserve a piece-by-piece breakdown, but here's some finer points that need refuted.

Look a little closer, however, and you can see the losses are there – and just how they have helped ease Pittsburgh back to the pack.

The Penguins were a 4th seed last year, played six mostly close games with Philadelphia, had a tough seven game series with Washington before winning the Stanley Cup 2-1 in a game 7.  This year, they're a 4th seed.  How were they head and shoulders above the field last season and in what way's have they tangibly fell back?  It's tough to see.

Gone also is any depth on the wing, where previously the likes of Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora took some of the focus off Crosby and Malkin and gave checkers fits en route to back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup final.

Of those three players, Sykora played one game (and 6:31 total) in the series against Detroit in 2009, the year the Penguins won the Cup.  The only player to dress in Game 7 was Hossa, and he of course did not play for Pittsburgh by this point. 

To make this statement even more curious, the Pens depth at wing is playing now better than ever.  Chris Kunitz (8 points in 9 games), Bill Guerin (8 points in 9 games) Pascal Dupuis (7 pts in 9), Maxime Talbot (5 pts in 9) and Matt Cooke (4 goals, 6 points in 9 games) are all contributing, productive members of the team.

Everyone who is back is being asked to do more this time around – especially on the back end, where coach Dan Bylsma is leaning on more of a five-man group (including relative newcomer Alex Goligoski) than the six 20-minute men he had in 2009.

This is just flat out inaccurate, based off circumstances.  Jordan Leopold only played 6:25 before getting knocked out and has slow to be brought up to speed off the concussion. 

Further, the Penguins only had 3 defensemen average 20+ minutes last season (though two more played 19+ minutes).  As Leopold continues to return to form, his minutes will go up and balance things out.  The overall numbers a little skewed to by the triple OT game early.

Minus [Guerin and Jordan Staal], the difference between the defending champs and the underdog Habs becomes much harder to find, and the tight-checking nature of the series may tip the balance in the Canadiens’ favour.

Yeah, aside from those Crosby and Malkin guys.


Our take: the Penguins depth is better now than perhaps ever.  They have a reliable, proven NHL defensemen in Jay McKee sitting in the press box every night and a decent, if young and inexperienced batch of forwards.  The salary cap has taken it's toll and the injuries to Guerin and Staal hurt.  However, when a team is lining up 17 guys that won the Cup last season, mostly in the same roles, they're in good position.