What Will It Take to Reach the Top of the Mountain?

Dan RobleContributor IDecember 16, 2008

Do the Pittsburgh Penguins have what it takes to defend their Atlantic Conference title and make a run back to the top of the Eastern Conference?  Or is this a much different team than last year that still has a lot of work that needs to be done to climb to the top of the hockey world?

Currently the Penguins sit in third place in the Atlantic Division (16-10-4, 36 points) with New Jersey only two points behind having played three less games so far.  The Pens have also played three less games than division leading New York Rangers who only lead by six points. 

After breaking through the gates with one of the top starts to a season in franchise history, the schedule now seems to be taking its toll on the Pens.  Bringing them back down to Earth, a rough portion of the schedule has left them with a 4-5-1 mark in their past 10 games.

Injuries have played a major role in not helping this tough stretch become any easier.  Just like last year we are once again seeing a number of guys come up from the minors to fill the void left by those who are injured. 

Luckily, Fleury is ready to return to play and Whitney is coming close to making his season debut.  This is where depth in the minors has become so important to this club.  Last year we had it and it helped us make our run (even helped acquire Marian Hossa) for the division title and to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Depth really is not a problem that has the Pens having trouble winning as of late like they had been early on.  It's a lack of scoring (aside from the 9-2 Islanders whipping) from those not named Crosby or Malkin who still sit as the top two leading scorers in the league. 

The team has the talent to score, but do we really have enough of that and overtake our division foes in the long run? The season is a marathon, not a sprint.

There has been a lot of talk about Crosby needing a scoring winger.  What everyone needs to realize though, is that we cannot afford to give up more depth just to bring in a big-name player. 

With the economy the way that it is, the cap is not going to go up next year like it has been since the lockout.  We will not have much room to sign someone else for six-plus million a year.  I think this past offseason Shero did what he needed to do by locking up the core.

This offseason, we did lose Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa but we did find an upgrade to Ruutu after he left in Matt Cooke.  At the start of the year we found our upgrade to Adam Hall in Mike Zigomanis. 

Fedotenko and Satan have underperformed in most fans eyes but I think they are playing exactly how I thought they would.  Satan is too slow to keep up with a high flying Crosby but can bang in a garbage goal now and then.  Fedotenko is too inconsistent in that he can score big goals some games and looks lost on the ice in others. 

I think we learned from Detroit that a line of tough guys is not going to help you win a cup, so Godard in place of Roberts and Laraque is not so much of a bad thing.  Godard is smart enough not to take stupid penalties and knows when to fight and when not to fight.  I just don't think we need to panic just yet and start making moves to screw up what we do have.

Really the only addition that could make any sense to me right now would be Marty St. Louis from Tampa Bay.  After this year he has two years left on his contract with a cap hit of four million a season. 

I do not know if Tampa Bay will be willing to move him at any point, but will it be worth giving up young talent just to bring in an older veteran?  We do still have some talented recent draft picks that are getting near NHL ready, especially Luca Caputi. 

I think developing and using them in the near future is more of the answer than to wildly throw away prospects for more temporary help.

I think in order to get to the top of the mountain we just need to be patient and see where things lead the next month or so.  Once we get Fleury back to where he was in the playoffs, and have the likes of Whitney, Kennedy, Gill, Zigomanis, and eventually, Gonchar return, then see where the team stands and go from there. 

I just do not want to see young talent and depth wasted once again on what is only a temporary fix for the team's quest for the cup.