The Penguins got their fifth win in a row and their 25th win of the season in a dramatic shoot-out victory over the New York Rangers last night at Madison Square Garden. In a game that was chippy from the start, the Pens squandered a 3-1 lead in the third period due to some Blueshirt heroics and their ability to get behind the Penguins' defensemen. But, DFG??? I thought the mighty Penguins had one of the best defensive lines in the NHL?? Yes. That is true. WHEN THEY ALL SUIT UP!!
Last night's game featured a depleted group of D-men led by veteran Matt Niskanen. But Matty isn't the top blue-liner for the Pens?? Again, you are correct. The Penguins top four defensemen are on the shelf with injuries and other issues. Of the four main Pens line pairings, only Crosby's top line is intact. Niskanen has been playing alongside 19 year old sensation Olli Maatta, while the other d-men are on the mend.
So how many regulars were out of the lineup, you ask? Try 12!! 12 players are out of the lineup. Ten players have injuries and the other two are serving suspensions. But these are 12 guys that see some significant amounts of ice-time each night. This includes the Penguins top 4 defensemen Kris Letang with an upper body injury, Brooks Orpik with the concussion at the hands of the evil Shawn Thornton, Paul Martin and his broken leg, and Rob Scuderi with a broken ankle. From an offensive point of view, the Pens are without NHL assist leader Evgeni Malkin, Jayson Megna, Andrew Ebbett, Tanner Glass, Beau Bennett, and their two suspended players Deryk Engelland and James Neal. Plus, back-up (starter, what's the difference) goaltender Tomas Vokoun has been out all season with a blood clot issue.
That is a ton of talent on the shelf but somehow, the Pens keep winning. I don't want to jinx it but I can't help but watch in amazement as a bunch of AHL call-ups rise to the occasion of a chance on NHL ice. They all are not playing up to a caliber that would get them a permanent roster sport or propel the Pens deep into the playoffs but their ability to solidly put up ice-time out there and hang with the opposing teams has been nothing short of spectacular in my opinion so far.
Tonight, it's Minnesota and the return of Matt Cooke to Consol. It will be interesting to see what happens there but I expect more of what we saw last night. These fresh faces like returning Chris Connor, Carolina's Staal trade victim Brian Dumoulin, Brian Gibbons, Ulf's son Philip Samuelsson (yes, he wears 55 and dad got to watch from the bench...the Rangers bench), and Zach Sill who has logged a little over 1 1/2 games of ice time this season, will have to play their very best until we start to see some signs of life on the IR.
Let's Go Pens.