The hits just keep on coming for the Pittsburgh Penguins. This isn't an injury bug anymore. This is an injury plague, with the team seemingly losing an important player on a weekly basis. While the blue line has seen its fair share of troubles in the last two months, the forward core has mostly remained intact.
Evgeni Malkin hasn't played since December 14, but the top line of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis had stayed healthy and effective. That changed on December 23. Ottawa Senators defenseman Marc Methot launched Crosby into the air with a check, and "the Kid" ended up taking out Dupuis.
He didn't return for that contest, and the Penguins have played in three games since without the top-line forward. Sources such as USA Today have all but confirmed that the 34-year-old is done for the year with a knee injury.
The team has seemingly settled on the notion of losing Dupuis for the season as well.
Dupuis going to have ACL knee surgery. May be out for rest of the season. Timetable unknown #Pens— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 27, 2013
So what does this devastating injury mean for Pittsburgh moving forward? And what do they have to do to absorb the blow? The first thing that comes to mind is replacing the scoring.
Dupuis only had seven goals and 20 points on the year so far, but this is a guy that has a proven track record as a productive forward. Given an 82-game season to work all the cold streaks out, Dupuis could have still pushed beyond the 20-goal mark for the fourth time in his career.
Now the Penguins will have to dig up another player with that sort of scoring potential. With James Neal set to play alongside Malkin when the center returns from injury, the Penguins have a few intriguing plug-and-play options.
Namely Beau Bennett.
He was injured in late November and required surgery to repair a banged up wrist/hand, according to Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune. At that point, Bennett was given an eight-to-10 week timetable to return.
If he's leaning toward the back end of that spectrum, the Penguins will have to seek out another temporary replacement for the time being. Once Bennett returns to action though, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him get a long look beside Crosby and Kunitz on the team's No. 1 line.
The reasoning behind this is simple.
Even when Dupuis wasn't scoring, his skill set allowed him to create time and space for the other players on his line. He was the first guy into the corner to battle for the puck and was frequently able to help maintain offensive pressure by boxing out opposing players while using his vision to find the open man.
Coincidentally, that is the same kind of game that Bennett plays.
While he's never going to blow anyone away with his speed, he doesn't need to. Bennett thrives when he has the puck on his stick and is incredibly mature, patient and responsible with the biscuit. While the transition from Dupuis to Bennett wouldn't be without a few bumps, the former first-round draft pick has the pedigree and talent to fit in on this line.
Plus, Crosby has a tendency to turn just about anyone into an All-Star winger.
Bennett is an outstanding player down low, and his silky hands allow him to roof shots in tight or to stick handle inside of a phone booth. In general, his play style slots in perfectly with the ground and pound game that Pittsburgh's top line tends to rely on.
Let's say that the Penguins do give that long look to Bennett, and general manager Ray Shero decides that he wants a more veteran/savvy presence on that top line. The injury Dupuis will allow the team to go out and perhaps make a mildly aggressive move at the trade deadline.
With Dupuis on the LTIR, the Penguins will have $3.75 million to play with—and that's not counting any other salary they offload, players they send to the minors or other players they are missing due to injury.
That makes a rental like Matt Moulson ($3.133 million cap hit) or Tomas Fleischmann ($4.5 million cap hit) very doable. If Shero can ship some salary back the other way, the options get even more interesting.
Losing Dupuis for the year is not a positive thing for the Penguins. Yet this squad has shown the resiliency and resourcefulness needed to scrape through this sort of injury. The team has several internal options that they can consider before looking to the outside for help, which is more than can be said about roughly half of the other teams around the NHL.