Last year, Crosby and Fleury were sidelined by high-ankle sprains and missed quite a number of games. During their absences, Malkin stepped up to fill the void left by Crosby.
Ty Conklin put on a show with an impressive (and unexpected) win streak. The rest of the team elevated their play and contributed with tough defense and spreading around the scoring.
This year started off with Ryan Whitney out for a few month due to an offseason surgery. In the preseason, Gonchar was knocked out for essentially the entire season.
Over the next few months, the Penguins were hit with a constant stream of injuries. Sykora, Kennedy, Gill, Dupuis, Talbot, Letang, Cooke, Zigomanis, Eaton, etc...Sometimes these injuries resulted in a couple of games, sometimes closer to 10.
In all, the Penguins have lost 173 man-games due to injuries.
In my opinion, many of these injuries have occurred at critical times. For example, Kennedy went out just when his third line of Staal-Kennedy-Cooke was really cooking.
Feditenko and Dupuis have had hot sticks lately and were recently knocked out, their return date uncertain. Now, just when they need to start putting some wins together, Crosby is day-to-day, Scuderi is questionable, and Talbot might miss a game or two.
Gonchar and Whitney's absence severely affected the power-play. With wingers in and out, Therrien is forced to juggle lines nearly every game. While he did a lot of this last year to give different looks to opponents, that was done with a group of players that had been together for a while and had chemistry coming into the year.
This year, it's impossible to settle on lines because of injuries, and therefore difficult for the players to create some mojo (see my earlier comment about the Staal line).
It might be too late for the Pens this season. It has been said that the Pens need 91 points in order to make the playoffs this season. With 37 games remaining, they have to avoid 15 losses in regulation.
For Penguins fans, it looks like they'll have to be secure in the knowledge that the organization has secured and very talented and young core of players for several years.
I also think that many of the players currently on the roster, will stay with the team through next season. If the Penguins fail to make the playoffs, they'll have a long time to rest and get healthy. They'll also have a "normal" camp and preseason for the 2009-2010 season.
I see no reason not to believe that the Penguins have the potential to win more than one Stanley Cup Championships in the next five years.
(see also this article written after mine...)