March 27, 2017, 9:10 AM ET [79 Comments]
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The Pittsburgh Penguins have now lost three games in a row. As recent as a week ago they had a good look at winning the division and potentially the President’s Trophy. Those aspirations have all but evaporated due to the recent stretch of games.
Matt Cullen called out the team for their effort last night
All due respect to the long time veteran, but the Penguins issues don’t have anything to do with effort. When you try to utilize the “next man up” strategy eight or nine times, you are going to have diminishing returns. Here is the current status of the Penguins.
Sidney Crosby has lost both of his wingers to injury. One winger is leading the NHL in 5v5 points per 60 and the other one was comfortably producing at a top line level.
The Evgeni Malkin line has been Malkin-less for six games.
Carl Hagelin will not be returning until right at the beginning of the playoffs or slightly after.
Kris Letang is skating again, but he has missed the last 16 games.
Olli Maatta, Ron Hainsey, and Trevor Daley are all out of the lineup and not available.
Here is what the healthy lineup is supposed to look like
Sheary (out) – Crosby – Guentzel (out)
Kunitz – Malkin (out) – Hornqvist
Hagelin (out) – Bonino – Kessel
Wilson – Cullen – Rust
Dumoulin – Letang (out)
Cole – Schultz
Maatta (out) – Hainsey (out)
Streit – Daley (out)
The reality is that the Penguins have been playing with too many AHL players in the lineup. For a while, they were getting some winning results. I would consider that a bonus. That was the result of Sheary-Crosby-Guentzel being on fire. Without that top line right available the ability for the Penguins to be dangerous offensively has been greatly compromised.
It is a lot to ask of a team to lose players of Malkin and Letang’s caliber and continue to pile up standings points. When you are dealing with another six injuries past that it makes winning in the NHL a tough proposition.
Getting healthy was always the #1 game plan heading towards the playoffs. Earning home ice advantage was a reasonable enough goal while navigating some of the injury issues that the Penguins have had. Lately, the injuries have reached a level where it is not reasonable to expect consistent positive results.
Looking for a positive in all of this is the fact the Penguins won’t play until Wednesday night. This will be the longest layoff the Penguins have in between games for the rest of the regular season. Some of the players who have been skating may be able to make a return to the lineup.
Pittsburgh has one of the best rosters in the NHL. Will that be the roster they go into battle with in mid-April? If they don’t it could be a short postseason.