Pittsburgh Penguins: How To Improve Without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin
Evgeni Malkin joined Sidney Crosby on the injured list prior to the Penguins' game against the New Jersey Devils. The Penguins lost the New Jersey game without their top two forwards, but won their most recent matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.
Their record of 30-15-4 puts them in second place in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.
While the Penguins are very much in a playoff position, that does not mean they are without flaws. What better time to work on these flaws and become the best they can be while playing without their top two players?
Here are some ways the Penguins can use the absence of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to become a better team. This slideshow will cover both individuals who need to improve, as well as team aspects that can be worked on.
The Comeback Kids
It wasn't that long ago when the Penguins were known as The Cardiac Kids.
When they were down by one, two or even three goals, there was never any doubt that they could come back and win. This helped them become one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference.
Now, the Penguins seem to be losing that identity. When they are trailing after one period, they have a winning percentage of .409.
This isn't to say that the Penguins need to start falling behind in every game. However, when they are trailing, they need to put in a little more effort and not just mail in the rest of the game. They need to find solutions for teams such as the Devils and the Minnesota Wild who are out to shut them down.
Besides, who said a few more wins ever hurt anybody?
Crosby is ranked 13th in the NHL in faceoffs and wins 55.6 percent of the time. The only other Penguin in the top 20 in that category is Mark Letestu, who wins 53.9 percent of his faceoffs.
As a team, Pittsburgh wins 50.2 percent of its faceoffs.
The Penguins can use the time without Crosby to get better in the faceoff circle. Players who don't normally take faceoffs may need to come in, and the Penguins will get off to a quicker start and dominate more if they can gain control of the puck off the bat.
In an earlier article, I praised Max Talbot for being a good character guy. He has a great sense of humor and is popular in the locker room and with Penguins fans. He is also a hero in Pittsburgh for scoring both goals in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.
Unfortunately, that is no longer enough to keep Talbot around, and he needs to step up or face being traded.
Talbot has a minus-three in his last five games. He also had nine penalty minutes in the game against the Devils and has not had a point since December 22 against the Florida Panthers.
He has already improved his seven-point total from last season to 11 points in 49 games, but more should be expected of him, especially since he is healthy this season.
His free pass, if not already expired, is quickly running out.
To me, Adams is largely invisible.
Like Talbot, Adams is also a minus-three in his last five games and has no points. He has eight points and a minus-five this year.
Adams has seen his ice time increase in Sid and Geno's absence. He played close to 15 minutes in the Devils game and close to 16 minutes in the Hurricanes game.
He is fifth on the team in penalty minutes, and since he was not brought in to rack up penalty minute totals, that is not something that will set him apart.
Asham has been seeing his ice time decline since the Penguins played the New York Islanders on December 29, when he played almost 12 minutes.
In the last four games, he has seen less than 10 minutes of ice time.
Mike Rupp and Matt Cooke, two other physical players, have seen more ice time than Asham. Cooke played 20 minutes in last Tuesday's game against the Detroit Red Wings, while Rupp saw close to 14 minutes in Saturday's game.
It's not clear whether Asham has become a victim of there being one grinder too many on the roster, but like Cooke, he can chip in offense occasionally. He just needs to convince Dan Bylsma that he should be playing more than he is. That comes from playing a better defensive game and getting more involved in the physical play.
Before coming to Pittsburgh, Michalek played five seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes, where he had three seasons of 20 or more points.
While Michalek's offense is good, his defense leaves a little something to be desired.
In 40 games this season, he has seven points and a minus-six rating. If he does not improve on that end, this will be his fourth season with a negative plus/minus rating.
Paul Martin, the Penguins' other free agent defense signing in the summer, has 17 points and a plus-eight rating.
Michalek and Martin were each given five-year contracts this offseason, so that is why it is important to compare them. Obviously, Martin is earning his contract a little more than Michalek.
Michalek needs to show why he got a big contract and why he was named "The Defenseman Every Team Wants" by AOL Fanhouse.
A Winning Streak
Since the Penguins' 12-game winning streak ended last month, they have not been able to win more than three games in any stretch.
The Penguins have gotten big wins such as an 8-1 win over Tampa Bay on January 5, then followed it up with a loss. For example, after dominating the Lightning, the Penguins were shut out 4-0 by the Wild.
Just like they can become the comeback kids after trailing, they can also get on another roll to separate themselves in the Eastern Conference.
The Washington Capitals are only two points back from the Penguins in the conference with 62 points, and the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers have 59 points. Therefore, home-ice advantage and a higher seed is far from a sure thing for Pittsburgh.