Two weeks ago, the Penguins were sitting at the top of the NHL and looked next to unbeatable, with four lines performing at a very high level. The 5-1 hammering of St. Louis was one of the most dominant three periods of hockey you'll see, outshooting the Blues 20-3 in the first and 43-23 in the game.
That now seems like a very long time ago.
The following afternoon, Head Coach Dan Bylsma revealed that powerplay quarterback Sergei Gonchar would once again be heading to the injury report, and he would miss four to six weeks. At that moment, the Penguin faithful held their breath, but felt like the defensive corps had enough depth now to overcome an injury.
Bylsma's Penguins then defeated Florida in a shootout without Gonchar, and all was "OK" for the time being.
Then, the New Jersey Devils came in and set the trap, which the Penguins fell face-first into. Being suffocated out in your own building is never a pleasant feeling, but the loss was the least of their concerns. High-energy and second leading scorer Tyler Kennedy was added to the shelf with an undisclosed groin injury.
To date, the young winger and an ideal compliment on the best third line in the NHL, had been playing excellent hockey, despite flying under the radar. But once again, the Penguins felt they could get by, as the Wilkes-Barre Baby Penguins have plenty of skilled forwards to choose from.
As if it was supposed to happen, yet another Penguin was cut down by the injury bug. Conn Smythe winner Evgeni Malkin , who just doesn't miss games, had a shoulder injury that would keep out the leading point-getter from a season ago for a few weeks.
But nobody saw that coming, right?
It's the snowball effect in it's finest example. In a ruthless display of checks-and-balances, when a force becomes too powerful, an impending disaster is waiting to hamper it. And just as the Penguins were hitting full stride against St. Louis, the injury bug invaded the Mellon Arena, much like the Visigoths brought down the mighty Roman Empire.
All of a sudden, the Penguins went from four productive lines to one. Sidney Crosby 's unit has remained intact, but every other line is a mix-and-match pairing of guys who have barely played together.
Dan Bylsma is looking his toughest test of his career right in the face as more minor-league players continue to invade the Penguins' starting roster. Before the game in San Jose, Bylsma had never lost two straight games in regulation. That changed in a hurry. His powerplay streak has hit 0-for-21 in the last five games and even Marc-Andre Fleury had to be pulled for the first time all season.
While some Penguins refuse to blame injuries, there is no way to not look at it. If a fire destroyed half of your house, would it be appropriate to say that the fire wasn't a reason why some of your possessions are now in ashes?
The magic number is now five. Five. Pyat. Cinq. However you say it, five key components of the Stanley Cup run last year that are out of the lineup. But what can Bylsma do to slow down the avalanche of injuries, a list that seems to grow with each game?
At the moment, he plays a lineup with a few offensive playmakers and a truck load of role players. Essentially, the Penguins have morphed into the Florida Panthers, or for lack of a better comparison, a team that you can count on one hand the number of goal-scorers they have.
There might not be any indication of this greater than the shot chart. The Penguins have been outshot in each of their last three games, a dismal reality for a team that prides itself on getting to the offensive zone and creating a forecheck. Even when they are getting shots, very few are from a genuine scoring area and the opportunities in front of the net have been scattered around like toys from a toddler's play set.
It's understandable that you can't replace Malkin or Kennedy overnight. You just can't.
But it's fair to say that Chris Bourque and Chris Conner are not goal scorers. Not even guys who can set up goals. They are nice role players and good complimentary energy guys, but not the kind of players that can score. As part of those two receiving time, the Penguins have gone from undersized to dangerously small.
Two defensemen under 5'10", a handful of players under 6'0", and now two replacements that are a similar size as a student rusher at the Mellon Arena.
There's a time and a place for role players. But at the moment, Bylsma needs the best offensive players in WBS, because teams won't give an ounce of respect to the goal scoring abilities of Conner, Bourque, or now the slap shot of Derek Engelland .
The team was physically dominated against the Kings and once again against the Sharks. Something has to give.
Luckily for the Penguins, Dan Bylsma has an extra day to figure some things out before Tuesday night in Boston. Malkin could be back in the lineup, but nobody can count on that happening. And getting embarrassed again for five goals can not be a continuing trend, not even this early in the season.
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