Sidney Crosby: 10 Ways the Pittsburgh Penguins Can Get By in His Absence
With Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby continuing his slow recovery from a "mild" concussion, the rest of the NHL moves on with the season, even the Pens, who are passing through a rough patch at the moment.
The injuries continue to pile up as the games go by. It has gotten to the point where call-ups from Wilkes-Barre Scranton are replacing each other, leaving the farm system depleted of its players.
But as always, the show must go on.
Many have claimed that Crosby's injury is so detrimental to the Pens that their season is going nowhere until he returns. It's a tempting thought, but the Pens can manage to find ways to keep their head above water until their captain makes his comeback.
Here are 10 ways the Pens can get by without Crosby in their lineup:
Laura Falcon is a Featured Columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Follow her on Twitter or email her at email@example.com with any comments or questions.
Strong Penalty Kill
The Pens are the most penalized team in the NHL.
When you spend as much time down a man—sometimes two—as the Pens, you better have a strong penalty kill to make up for the undisciplined play. They certainly do, sitting first in the NHL with an 87.6-percent kill rate.
A big contribution to the penalty kill success has been the impressive play of the puck-target defenseman Zbynek Michalek, along with the rest of the defense. They have been consistently healthy for a large portion of the season.
What may be overlooked is the health from the offensive penalty killers. Despite the injury spree taking place on the offensive positions, the penalty killers have remained healthy, including Pascal Dupuis, Max Talbot, Craig Adams and Jordan Staal.
Special teams always make or break a game. If the Pens can ensure a solid penalty killing effort each game, then they can shave off a few opposing goals from the scoreboard.
Stand Up for Each Other
After Friday's embarrassing brawl-fest with the New York Islanders, this is especially important.
Injuries are forcing holes in the lineup and they continue to expand as the injury list grows, so it is crucial that the team sticks together both on and off the ice.
We ultimately saw this on Friday's game when Eric Godard jumped off the players bench to protect backup goalie Brent Johnson, guaranteeing him a minimum 10-game suspension from the NHL. The Pens may be without Godard's services for some time, but it really wouldn't make a difference since he doesn't consistently appear in the lineup.
More so than the suspension was Godard's willingness to break the rules to make sure nothing happened to his teammate.
Call it stupid, but this was an admirable thing to do.
Teams often have and probably will take advantage of the depleted roster with some extra physicality, which is why the Pens need to be ready to protect each other.
For their sake, and for the sake of the rest of the team.
Fleury haters have nothing left to say, as the goalie has silenced every last one of the criticisms.
A poor start saw many call for his trade or at least his demotion to backup in favor of Johnson. Since then, his lack of confidence and overall poor performance has been erased by a valiant effort that has, more often than not, kept the Pens in close games despite lacking in offense.
With a .920 SV% and a 2.30 GAA, Fleury is showing that he can play like an elite goaltender and can be depended on to win games.
Fleury needs to continue his stellar play in net, especially while on the penalty kill, because more and more teams are taking advantage of the depleted offense and are finding ways to penetrate the defense to get more scoring chances.
If Fleury can hold the fort, then the Pens will be in good shape.
Low-Scoring Games Through Defensive Domination
If Fleury must pick up his game to keep the Pens in the win column, then the defense must follow suit.
Overall, they haven't disappointed, especially the newer signees Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek, along with Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy, who are playing their first full seasons in the NHL.
With the help of Fleury, these defensemen have to make the effort to keep games low scoring. If teams go up 3-0 or 4-0 on the Pens, staging a comeback will become more difficult because the offense is looking more like a minor league unit.
If the Pens fall behind on the scoreboard, keeping within two goals would be a major accomplishment and would also give the Pens a chance to come back in the game.
It isn't impossible for the forwards to score. The questions is whether they will score more than the other team. The defense has to fight each day because they will have the biggest hands in whether the Pens win or lose.
If the Pens' defensive core must make a continuous effort to keep goals off the board, then the offense must fight just as hard to get that all-important first goal.
Scoring the first goal of the game hasn't always guaranteed success for the Pens lately, as their 2-0 lead against the New York Rangers erased rather quickly on Sunday. However, being the first to put one on the board is never a bad thing.
The Pens scoring the first goal with a offensive roster full of call-ups could affect the other team psychologically. In turn, scoring the first goal could be a huge boost for the call-ups.
Either way, the Pens need to find ways to score.
WB/S Players Have Something To Prove
Players who get called up from the AHL are given the opportunity to show off their skills for a small period of time, allowing them to go all out to impress both the coaching staff as well as the general manager.
It's their chance to prove why they belong with the big boys.
So it would only make sense that those boys bring their A game every time they take the ice because each shift counts as a tryout and could possibly lead them to a one-way ticket out of the AHL and into the NHL for a permanent stay.
I noticed that the call-ups lately have played with this attitude, and they have been rewarded on the scoreboard and with ice time. I would even say that many of them, specifically Brett Sterling, have exceeded expectations and brought forth solid efforts despite losses.
It's that extra fire within these guys that could lead the Pens to victory not only because they are fighting that hard for a permanent spot, but because the opposition might not know what to expect from them.
Role Players Must Step Up
I'm going to sound like a broken record from my last few slides, but the role players need to keep bringing their skill to the ice.
Simply put, when you're without Crosby and Malkin, you need to find other ways to score. This is when players like Tyler Kennedy, Mike Rupp and Max Talbot need to pick up the torch and shine.
Only so much can be expected of the call-ups. The remaining healthy professionals have to take care of the rest.
The leader of the offense, and in many ways, the team.
Staal becomes the first line center with Crosby and Malkin out, so his responsibilities of leading the offense become even more important. The "A" on his chest emphasizes that.
But his vocal leadership will also become important as well, especially in terms of addressing the call-ups and applauding their work when applicable.
Staal has emerged as one of the young leaders of the team and his leadership has been put to the test. Thus far, he's been good, but can use much improvement.
The Pens will have to rely on Staal on so many levels, from being a top penalty killer to being an in-front net presence during the power play. He is also expected to play well offensively as well as he has defensively.
The pressure is on for him to live up to his potential now that the superstars of the team are temporarily out of the picture.
With about $18 million in cap space opened from the long-term injuries of Crosby and Malkin, it would behoove general manager Ray Shero to ease some of the bleeding by trading for a solid winger.
Some names being thrown around include the Edmonton Oilers' Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner along with Alexei Kovalev from the Ottawa Senators.
The Pens need to find a consistent scoring winger because a deep run in the playoffs isn't going to be possible without some strength on offense. He certainly won't be a Crosby, but very few players will ever be able to make that claim anyway.
Get Fired Up
The Pens will be on the road in the next few upcoming games, but who the Pens will face is what truly makes the next games difficult.
Teams include the Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks, New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins.
These teams will need no introduction to the Pens, who know the skill levels of each team. There is even a level of hatred between the Pens and some of those teams, like the Caps and Bruins.
Getting fired up for these games shouldn't be a difficult thing, but especially in the middle of a slump, the emotional games against teams who know they're better might be what the Pens need to kick it into a higher gear.
Not to mention the confidence that would stem from beating such teams would be immeasurable.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!