Pittsburgh Penguins: Jordan Staal Injured; What's Next for Pens?

Alison Myers@AlisonM_110Correspondent IJanuary 10, 2012

Pittsburgh Penguins: Jordan Staal Injured; What's Next for Pens?

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    Jordan Staal is the latest member of the Pittsburgh Penguins to succumb to an injury, as he was diagnosed with a knee injury that will keep him out for four to six weeks.

    The Penguins also dodged a bullet when forward James Neal, who was initially diagnosed with a broken foot, was found to only have a bone bruise. Neal practiced prior to Tuesday's game against the Ottawa Senators and declared he was ready to play. Hopefully, he will not injure his foot further—like he doesn't believe he will—or end up with another injury.

    With this said, the rest of the NHL will not sit back and take it easy on Pittsburgh. The team still has a grueling January ahead and have to keep plugging along with the lineup they have, which includes call-ups from the AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

    The injury problems are unfortunate, but they are what they are, and the Penguins need to figure out where to go from here.

    Here is what lies ahead for the Penguins, from players that need to step up to a breakdown of their upcoming opponents.

Tough Schedule

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    The latest injuries could not have come at a worse time for Pittsburgh, mostly because they are already dealing with unknown statuses on Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, but also because their schedule in January isn't going to be a cakewalk.

    This week, Pittsburgh is meeting with the Ottawa Senators, who are rebounding after a poor 2010-11 and currently sit in fifth in the Eastern Conference and second in the Northeast Division.

    They also face the Capitals on Wednesday, and although the Caps are in 10th in the East, they always present a tough test for Pittsburgh. They are finally starting to turn things around after Dale Hunter was hired, winning four of their last five games, and are two points out of the final playoff spot in the conference.

    It will be the first of two meetings with the Caps this month, as the rivals will play again on Jan. 22 for a national TV audience.

    The Penguins also face the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers as well as the conference-leading New York Rangers. The month wraps up with the St. Louis Blues, who defeated the Penguins in overtime back in November, and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are having a decent season for the first time in several years.

    Needless to say, the Penguins need to come ready to play regardless of their depleted lineup.

Trade Talk

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    Don't worry, I'm not suggesting the Penguins trade James Neal. I just needed a picture of one of the Pens' most recent acquisitions, and this is what I decided to come up with.

    Anyway, if anyone currently on the injured list takes longer to come back or—heaven forbid—another player goes down, Ray Shero may not have a choice but to see who is available on the market.

    Pittsburgh will need additional scoring depth, but there is no reason to overspend by getting Bobby Ryan or Zach Parise. Still, if Shero wants to keep the team in playoff contention, he shouldn't just sit back and hope everyone's recovery goes as planned.

Answers on Sidney Crosby

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    In a column published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Monday, writer Josh Yohe stated that Sidney Crosby's status will dictate how the team will be impacted for the remainder of the season, as well as whether or not Ray Shero decides to explore the trade market.

    Yohe also said that Crosby needs to inform the Penguins management of his plans for the rest of the year soon if he has not done so already, and he is correct in this assessment.

    Although some vague reports have appeared indicating Crosby still has concussion symptoms and that he is working out, there is still no indication of when or if he'll be back in the next three months. This is simply not fair to his teammates or the paying fans to not know what's going on.

    The Penguins don't have to be specific about Crosby's symptoms, but there is no way they can continue stringing everyone along on the issue. It's already gone on for the better part of the last year; now is not the time to not have an answer with more injuries practically coming by the day.

AHL Call-Ups Must Contribute

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    Right now, the Penguins have two forwards in their lineup from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in Eric Tangradi and Colin McDonald.

    McDonald was called up on Friday and has a plus-one rating through two games. Prior to going to Pittsburgh, he played two games with the Edmonton Oilers in 2009-10, where he had one goal.

    Tangradi, arguably one of the top prospects in the organization, is in his third recall this year. He has no points and a minus-one while averaging about 10:15 of ice time per game. Last year, he played 15 NHL games before suffering a concussion and had three points and a minus-four.

    While McDonald and Tangradi won't light the league on fire, they will be expected to put up points and perhaps take on a lot of ice time. If they cannot contribute to the offense, it will be that much more of an uphill battle for the team. After all, Evgeni Malkin can't score by himself.

    Tangradi especially needs to make the most of his opportunity. There will be no excuse if he continues to not put up points, and it is unlikely he will continue to get unlimited chances if he doesn't produce.

Players Who Need to Step Up

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    With a depleted lineup, there will always be players who will be counted on to step up and try to replace their injured teammates. Even if they don't match the missing players' totals, they still need to perform and be a crucial part of the team.

    Two of these players for Pittsburgh will be forwards Pascal Dupuis and Steve Sullivan.

    Dupuis currently has 25 points in 40 games and is tied for first on the Pens with four game-winning goals. However, he has not had a point in his last four games and has a minus-two rating. He did leave the Dec. 31 game against the New Jersey Devils with an injury, but did not miss additional time.

    Dupuis also had a three-game scoreless streak in October, so this is not the first time he has disappeared for a stretch of time.

    Sullivan, the player who everyone thought would be injury prone, has stayed healthy this year. He has 20 points so far, but has not scored in three of the last five games. He has had two four-game streaks—one in October and one in December—where he has not put up any points.

    Both players are veterans on the team and will be expected to score if the Penguins are to win games.

Get Back on Track

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    In addition to having a tough schedule packed with top teams, the Penguins are in the midst of a four-game losing skid. They have dropped two games to the New Jersey Devils and also fell against the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.

    Beating quality competition has been a problem for the Pens as of late. In December, they only got one win against a top team in the Chicago Blackhawks. Some of the other teams they beat include the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes (twice) and the Winnipeg Jets—none of who are in a playoff spot right now.

    Meanwhile, they lost to the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins in addition to the Flyers loss.

    These struggles have put the Penguins in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 21-15-4 for 46 points. It may not be time to fire Dan Bylsma or press the panic button on a trade, but the Penguins have to find ways to win games like they did in 2010-11 when their lineup was in just as much poor shape, if not more.

    If they cannot start finding wins against the other playoff contenders, they will only find themselves further down the standings.