Pittsburgh Penguins Are On Fire: But a Question Needs to Be Answered

Mark LeskoCorrespondent IIDecember 13, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 08: Evgeni Malkin #71 (L) of the Pittsburgh Penguins hugs Jordan Staal #11 (R) after Staal's goal at 11:21 of the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center on October 8, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Penguins are red hot on fire—winners of 12 in a row and looking pretty dominate in doing so.

Sidney Crosby is stating his case as the best player in the NHL. Marc-Andre Fluery has found his timing and the puck looks like a beach ball to him. Things are going great for the Pens.

All the winning is going on without two of the Pens' best players in Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. That is what leads to the major question, what will happen when they come back?

When Malkin comes back the answer is simple, Eric Godard will go back to healthy-scratch mode. That leaves the tough decision when Staal comes back. When a team is playing this well, it is hard to mess with the rhythm and make changes.

The usual choice for making room is benching/sending down the young guys. However, outside of Sid's line, the best line for the Pens has been the Chris Connor-Tyler Kennedy-Mark Letestu line. They have cycled the puck very well, created great scoring chances and provided youth and energy to the lineup.

That brings it to the next usual choice for making room, the fourth-liners.

During the streak the fourth line has mostly been Aaron Asham-Craig Adams-Mike Rupp when Malkin is in the lineup. Adams is one of the Pens best penalty killers and Asham has put up good scoring numbers (one less point than Max Talbot and more points than Rupp, Adams and Mike Comrie who all have more games played).

With Talbot really playing well, that leaves Rupp as the likely man out.

Comrie's time with Pittsburgh may be coming to an end as it is and he has not been playing due to injury. Rupp has not played terrible and has been a nice physical presence, but it looks like he may have to go to a situational role.

It is a tough decision the Pens have to make, and whoever is taken out will not be happy, but that is the reality of sports. Any team would love to be stuck in the Pens' tough situation.

Depth is something very hard to establish in the NHL and the Pens will have it when Staal returns, so it is a good problem to have.

Guys like Ben Lovejoy and Brent Johnson have already accepted demotions for the better of the team, even though they were playing well, so the Pens have to hope the next guy demoted will be just as professional.