But there was also one other, less heralded roster addition that season.
The return of Sergei Gonchar from a shoulder injury.
The Pens power play in 2009 sorely missed “Sarge,” and it showed when he returned to lineup healthy, fresh, and well-rested.
Unlike in 2009, when the Pens were without Gonchar for nearly 5 months, the injuries to Malkin and Letang seem relatively minor. And the power play, which struggled mightily without Gonchar in ’09, is one of the league’s best this season.
The Penguins are currently the NHL’s hottest team, reeling off ten straight wins. The top line of Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz is playing like they’re in a different league than everyone else. This team is showing just how good they are. And that’s a scary thought considering that the reigning NHL MVP and scoring champion has missed the last 5 games. Not to mention being without their best defenseman for most of two periods against the Boston Bruins, and the entire game Tuesday night against the Capitals.
The biggest “positive,” (if injuries can at all be considered such) is that it has afforded other players the opportunity to step up. In Malkin’s absence, Brandon Sutter has stepped up BIG TIME with two goals. Those two goals, you’ll recall, came in the first matchup against the Bruins a week ago. One goal tied the game, and the next goal won it for the Pens. And that’s just his scoring. Keep in mind that Sutter is also one of the Pens’ best penalty killers, and for the season has just 4 penalty minutes himself (both were 2-minute minors for closing his hand on the puck during a faceoff, and occured in the first two games of the season).
And then there is Dustin Jeffrey, who has contributed with two assists (yeah I know it’s not much) and solid play in the offensive zone. He’s been around the net a ton. It’s a shame he is not more of a finisher (like James Neal, who clearly has struggled to score in Malkin’s absence) otherwise he could have at least four or five goals with as much as he’s been around the net.
And in Letang’s absence, all the Penguins did Sunday against the Bruins was shut them out for the final two periods. And Tuesday against the Caps, the Penguins’ goal-scorers were d-men Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen.
So the Penguins have shown the ability this season to overcome injuries to their superstars. Ray Shero was on the NHL Network during the GM Meetings today in Toronto. When asked if there was the potential for a big time move at the trade deadline, he basically reiterated how he likes the makeup of the team, but would like to add some depth in case of injuries throughout the playoffs. Pretty much the corporate reply of GM’s to a question of that nature.
The door is by no means closed on making a trade deadline acquisition, but there is no bigger addition than that of the one expected potentially Friday night on Long Island.
That’s all for now. I’ll have a piece on why I think Jarome Iginla will be a good fit with the Penguins, and what I could live with giving up for him, tomorrow.
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Cheers to good hockey!