As the Pittsburgh Penguins sit on the brink of elimination, there are many who have been looking for reasons as to why this has come to pass. The answer is simple: Injuries.
We can all debate the wisdom of the trades and moves that made the team what it is today. One thing we should not go overboard with is talk of another rebuild – as it’s coming.
Just not in the way you may think.
The Pens have stood tall against the New York Rangers, winning 1 game at Madison Square Garden and losing the other 3 games by 1 goal. That’s pretty good for an 8th seed going up against the President’s Trophy winners. Imagine now that the Pens currently had all of their injured players back. Kris Letang is not someone easily replaced, and would instantly upgrade the blue line with a puck-moving defensemen who was in the thick of Norris Trophy contention when he was injured by Shane Doan.
Imagine that the Pens had Olli Maatta in the lineup, a young player talented beyond his years. He would be an immediate upgrade over most of the current defensemen. Imagine Christian Ehrhoff staking out there, playing like the big name free agent acquisition that he was until injuries sustained against the Washington Capitals removed him from the action. Imagine Derrick Pouliot, a puck-moving weapon on the blue line that showed sustained flashes as to why he was drafted in the 1st round.
Looking at the defense alone, that’s 4 top players – gone.
The kids who have stepped into these open roles have played commendably. Taylor Chorney and Brian Dumoulin have held their own out there, much to their credit. However, no one can seriously compare Chorney’s game to Maatta’s. Dumoulin is good, but not “Ehrhoff good.”
Now, don’t mistake me for making excuses. You skate your best available players, and if they aren’t good enough – so be it. However, let’s not pretend that the Pens are skating their best players and still coming up short. I posit that this Pens team is not like last season’s playoff losers.
Let’s take a look at last year’s playoff roster:
Generally a healthy team, they beat Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 before losing to the Rangers, 4-3.
As for this season, it’s a different situation entirely:
We can see that some of those top players from last season aren’t with us this time around. That just shows how deep the current team is, in that they are still competitive after losing so much top talent to injury.
Regardless of who the Pens are able to bring back next season, they will have a better team.
As we head towards a possible 1st round exit from the post-season, let’s remember that a rebuild is coming.
It’s coming off of the IR.
Lee is a contributor here at The Hockey Writers as well as at Pens Initiative. A graduate of Pennsylvania State University, he worked an internship at VH1 Radio in NYC and served as Editor-in-Chief of the Penn State – New Kensington campus student newspaper, The Nittany Pride. You can visit Lee’s website here: leecjsobotka.com.