Having lost six out of their last eight, and suffering through an o-fer their last 33 power play opportunities (before going 2-6 against Atlanta on Jan. 6), the Penguins are looking for some sort of spark to reignite the defending Eastern Conference champions.
The current issues with the Penguins shouldn’t be classified as to who they don’t have, but rather who they do have, not playing up to par.
Since returning from injury on Dec. 18, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is sporting a 4-6 record. While there are some bad losses mixed in there, there are also losses to Boston, Montreal, and the Rangers. Fleury could still be recovering from his dubious “lower-body injury,” which caused him to miss nearly three months last season.
If Fleury can’t recover fully from his injury, or worse, re-aggravates it and has to go back on the shelf, the Pens have to make a move for a better backup goalie. Though Dany Sabourin has been serviceable (2.72 GAA), his save percentage is at .902, which has contributed to his 6-7-2 record.
Another key player returning from injury recently has been defenseman Ryan Whitney, who, in eight games since returning, has only compiled three assists (two against Atlanta on Jan. 6) and posted a minus-five. As the best defenseman on the roster Sergei Gonchar is still on the shelf, and the under-performance of Whitney on both ends of the ice has been hard to endure.
Speaking of the crucial two-way defenseman, Gonchar has yet to step on the ice this season, and questions remain if he ever will. In the past two seasons, Gonchar has compiled 10 goals and 38 assists and eight goals and 38 assists, respectively, on the power play. Gonchar’s presence alone should aid the Penguins power play, which is converting at 17 percent, 10th in the East.
If returning to form doesn’t put the Pens in the place they hope to be, a shuffling of the lineup, namely more ice time for second-year defenseman Kris Letang or rookie defenseman Alex Goligoski (six goals, 13 assists) and more of a defensive presence on the first line (Crosby currently sports a plus-five) could be in order.
The biggest problem facing the Penguins at the trade deadline is how close they are to the salary cap (approximately $56.13M of the $56.7M cap). Moving guys whose financial obligations outweigh their production (Ruslan Fedotenko, Hal Gil, Mark Eaton) should be done.
GM Ray Shero should seriously consider moving Fedotenko and Eaton regardless—and, if this is done, look closely at picking up Brendan Shanahan.
Adding Shanahan to the mix (namely the first line) will create either more offense on the two-line if Miro Satan is moved, or more defense if Pascal Dupruis is moved. Shanahan could provide the scoring, leadership, and toughness that was hoped for from Gary Roberts in past seasons, but never came to fruition.
The main thing the Penguins have to do is to get healthy. The last month and a half of the season shapes up nicely for Pittsburgh to make a run, considering out of their last 19 games, games against Washington (one, road), Boston (one, home), Philadelphia (one, home), the Rangers (one, home), and Montreal (last game of the season, road), giving the Pens a reasonable chance to compile at least 25 points in March and April.