The Pittsburgh Penguins situation is dire. Three of the five straws which stir the Penguins drink are out of the lineup. The Penguins power play has been anemic without the chaos which Patric Hornqvist creates in front of the net. The Penguins defensive corps is without Kris Letang, who is their biggest minutes eater, offensive defenseman, and shutdown defender. Now, the Penguins lines shuffled without all-time great Sidney Crosby, and the never-ending list of things which Crosby does every game, including score.
The locker room is saying the right things, but the reality hasn’t yet landed. Missing the Penguins version of the Justice League, there are only a couple of lonely superheroes left to defend the Penguins’ position in the standings. It may not go well. Adrenaline will be pumping when the Penguins are in New Jersey Friday night and host Toronto Saturday night. That adrenaline can fix a few issues, make a few players faster and add a couple of goals on the scoreboard. The Penguins may well hammer New Jersey.
A small win streak may even occur. Presumably, the same fans who used the Penguins success in October to advocate trading Evgeni Malkin will not use any short term win streak to claim the Penguins are better off without Crosby. A short-term elevation is entirely plausible.
But it won’t last forever.
When the adrenaline wears off, whatever is will be. The water will find its own level. The real Penguins will emerge.
And that’s going to be the toughest thing. A head coach cannot give stirring locker room speeches or flip tables to fix it. Assistant coaches cannot concoct the greatest scheme ever to halt the slide to normalcy.
The Penguins lines without Crosby and Hornqvist are, at best, a mismatch of talents looking for a home. The best center is out of the lineup and the rough-rider right wing’s absence means other changes are necessary to compensate for it.
There just isn’t a way to replace Crosby.
Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
Top Line: Guentzel-Malkin-Rust
This line has a chance to be successful. Guentzel is a heady player who plays well with talented centers. If there is a player who could keep up with Crosby’s devastating speed and will, and zig-zag with Malkin’s creative game, it is Guentzel.
Rust is a good Malkin sidecar. Until Alex Galchenyuk catches on, Guentzel is the Penguins’ only hope on the left-wing.
2nd Line: Galchenyuk-Bjugstad-Lafferty
Ever wake up early in the morning and try to get dressed in the dark?
For now, the Penguins must find ways to get Galchenyuk into the flow. Bjugstad’s simple game may prove to be the right move with Galchenyuk who, among other things, needs to begin to shoot the puck more often. Bjugstad creates chances.
Lafferty is speedy puck retrieval, forecheck and defensive responsibility. Perhaps the line will click and not more closely resemble the regret of realizing you’re wearing two different socks.
3rd Line: Kahun-McCann-Simon
Small, fast, creative, and surprisingly good at puck pressure. The Penguins are taking a gamble with pairing three similar players together. None of them are 6-feet tall or heavy, but each skates well and the wings are creative.
This line will be feast or famine. Much will depend on McCann’s ability to generate offense from the pivot. Simon is adept at creating offense on any line, too.
Energy Line: Aston-Reese–Blueger–Tanev.
The only line which has remained constant for much of the past month. They are the epitome of a grind line. Sullivan has recently started this line at each period and used them in big situations to seize momentum, such as after a goal.
However, they haven’t scored many goals, and probably won’t. Their job will be to shut down the opposition and get the puck into the offensive zone.
So the Penguins situation may be lighter in the short term until the weight catches up with them. TSN insider Daren Dreger reported Rutherford was adamant the Penguins will not shop for a replacement. Of course one cannot replace Crosby, but maybe a little help might not hurt, either.
The Penguins lines will undergo a few more changes and adjustments as the coaches see chemistry or lack thereof. And, we probably haven’t seen the last injuries, either.