A Different Take On The Penguins

Eric NaughtonCorrespondent INovember 19, 2009

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 2: The Pittsburgh Penguins raise their Stanley Cup Champions banner in a ceremony before a game against the New York Rangers on October 2, 2009 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh defeated New York 3-2.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

It is Thursday, November 19th, 2009.  the Pittsburgh Penguins have completed 25.6 percent of their schedule and the only thing people can write about are the injuries.

For everybody's information, the Penguins have not lost the most "man-games" to injury.

The Canucks have lost the most.  Roberto Luongo was sidelined and returned recently. Daniel Sedin and Pavol Demitra are out and have not returned.

The Colorado Avalanche has even sustained more lost manpower and they lead the NHL as of today.

Of course, with the news that Jay McKee will be out, Pittsburgh fans might have a good case that the Pens have suffered the most.  

At one point, three top defensemen and three top forwards were out of the lineup including superstar (no, not you Max) Evgeni Malkin.  When Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup, Chris Kunitz and Alex Goligoski sat out.

Though another blueliner will be out on Thursday, it is expected that Sergei Gonchar and Max Talbot will return to the lineup.

Now that I've gotten all of the injury nonsense out of the way, the Pittsburgh Penguins are 14-7-0 and have won two straight games.

The Penguins started the season 9-1-0 in their first ten games after a few months of "Stanley Cup hangover" talk.  They won 11 games in October, only a few other teams have done that.

The Penguins started their season 7-0-0 on the road.  When they were first dealt a road loss by the Los Angeles Kings, the Pens were 12-3-0 and already having injury problems.

I almost forgot, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in June, 2009.  They had injuries that season, too.  Sergei Gonchar returned just as Dan Bylsma took over as head coach in February.

The Penguins have a system that is shared by the parent club as well as the AHL farm team, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

That system was in place when Michel Therrien coached at Pittsburgh and Dan Bylsma coached the Baby Pens.  When the Penguins were slumping, Therrien got away from the system.  When Bylsma took over in Pittsburgh, he put the system back in place and turned things around.

The Penguins organization also has a good pipeline of players and prospects.  Forwards Chris Bourque, Chris Conner and Mark Letestu have been called up and performed well.  Blueliners Deryk Engelland, Nate Guenin, and Ben Lovejoy filled in the seriously depleted defensive corps and held the fort.

If the system didn't work, these guys wouldn't do as well as they have.  The young defensemen even provided some of the winning spark in the last two victories.

A brilliant move by coach Bylsma was the return of Evgeni "Geno" Malkin.  The brilliant move wasn't Malkin's return itself, but playing Malkin and Crosby together.

"The Two-Headed Monster" as they are sometimes called, hasn't always had great chemistry the past year.  Rather than have Crosby, Malkin and Staal center depleted lines, Bylsma created a super first line to counteract big, bad Zdeno Chara.

Chara's effectiveness was curtailed by pitting him against two superstars of the game.  If he handled Crosby, Malkin would be open and vice versa.  This tactic and excellent secondary scoring gave Pittsburgh a victory and ended a four-game slide.

In the 5-2 win against Anaheim, Engelland and Lovejoy assisted on goals and the Crosby powerplay scored for the first time in 30 attempts on the man-advantage.

Today, the Penguins face the Ottawa Senators.  Ottawa didn't do too well last year, but even with Dany Heatley gone, the Sens are not going to be pushovers.

Former Penguin, Alexei Kovalev, along with Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo are new to Ottawa and fitting in pretty well.  Kovalev is credited with Mike Fisher's scoring prowess.  Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza are still playing in Canada's capital and ready to put the hurt on the Pens.

Their strong defense, who never seem to be intimidated by Crosby or Malkin, are backstopped by a capable goaltender in Pascal Leclaire.

If Eric Godard is in the lineup, expect a fight with Matt Carkner who leads the NHL with nine bouts this season.

To return to the injury report, Talbot and Gonchar are likely to return while defensive bull, Anton Volchenkov, will be a scratch for the Senators.

If the Penguins play simple hockey, get bodies in front of Leclaire, get shots on net, and give Fleury some support, they have a better than good chance to win.  If they relax and think that Gonchar and Talbot's return tip the scales, the Pens might be in for a long 60 minutes in Scotiabank Place tonight.

As for the rest of the season, Pittsburgh fans can expect to see the lineup from October 2nd intact by Christmas.  Ho, ho, ho and let's go Pens!


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