The injury bug bit the Pittsburgh Penguins again. At the beginning of the season, it was defensive injuries that dominated the injury list, now it’s offensive injuries. Currently, the team has five offensive players on the injury list including Evgeni Malkin and Teddy Blueger, their second- and third-line centers. It feels as soon as one player comes back, another goes down and the cycle keeps repeating itself. Despite the injuries, the team has won three of their last five games and sit comfortably in third place in the MassMutual East Division. The Penguins haven’t let the injuries dictate the narrative of their games.
Rebounded Against Sabres
Malkin left the March 16 loss against the Boston Bruins with a lower-body injury. The Penguins then lost two of their three-game series against the New Jersey Devils, with one of the losses coming in overtime. Going home with three points instead of two was a decent outcome as we begin to enter the last full month of the regular season where every point counts. The Penguins played three games in four days, which didn’t fair nicely for them. It was an underwhelming performance by Pittsburgh, but they didn’t completely roll over.
Despite their lackluster play last week, the Penguins put away the Buffalo Sabres convincingly Wednesday and Thursday night. They played like they had something to prove in the first game Wednesday night, which they did. The second game Thursday was a calmed-down, dominant performance. These games could have been trap games with Buffalo being a desperate team, but Pittsburgh did what is expected of them. It demonstrated this team’s character. They dominated a team they were supposed to instead of playing down to their level. This Penguins team has their elite players with a side of scrappy players and it has been clicking for them lately.
Multiple Players Chipping In
An encouraging development for the Penguins has been that multiple players have stepped up and put points up on the board. They got help from unusual suspects in addition to the first line. In the last three wins, the Penguins got goals from Zach Aston-Reese, Evan Rodrigues, John Marino and Jared McCann. Even new faces have shown up. Last night against the Sabres, recent call-up Radim Zohorna scored his first NHL goal to give the team a 1-0 lead.
The first line has not slowed down this season. The other three lines have been inconsistent, chipping in here and there. Malkin and Kasperi Kapanen were red hot prior to going down with injuries. The offense was able to minimize the effects of their absence. It is promising for the Penguins that the unlikely characters have stepped up to the plate and helped win these crucial games with key offensive players out of the lineup. On paper, these are not eye-popping names, but they have got the job done and make the Penguins a tough opponent who are not going to be written off so quickly.
Islanders Series is Critical
The real test comes this weekend against the New York Islanders. The Penguins lead the Islanders series this year winning four of the six matchups. Two of these victories have come in overtime. The Penguins were lucky to win most of the victories, falling behind in three of them. What the season series against the Islanders has shown is that the Penguins can keep up with the first-place team in the division. The Islanders are poised to make a deep run in the playoffs and the Penguins have shown they can challenge them even when they were not playing their best hockey at the beginning of the year.
Back in January, the Penguins were riddled with defensive injuries. Now, they are riddled with offensive injuries. The team will likely not have Malkin, Kapanen or Brandon Tanev back by Saturday against the Islanders. Now they have a chance to prove that despite the depleted roster they are a contending team that can challenge the Islanders for first place in the East, which they are only four points shy of. That running over the Sabres was because the Penguins are a deep, well-rounded team rather than Buffalo’s lack of talent. Pittsburgh has an opportunity to display that they can get through any adversity thrown at them this season. The odds are looking good for them.