Pittsburgh Penguins Thriving Even Without Key Players

By Randy Holt
James Neal
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins are off to one of the better starts anywhere in the league. Somehow, the West Coast San Jose Sharks have managed to garner more attention than the East Coast club to this point, but the Pens have been terrific nonetheless.

It isn’t difficult to figure out just how the Penguins have managed to find such a large amount of success early on in the season. The prime reason is the play of Sidney Crosby, who is off to an unbelievable start. Barring injury, he could run away with some serious hardware by the time the end of the season rolls around.

Yet, the Penguins have also been successful in playing through injuries to key pieces on their roster. A team with several notable names has been without two of its stars, and that’s not including the loss of backup netminder Tomas Vokoun, which has left them to roll with the inexperienced Jeff Zatkoff as the no. 2.

The two players out for the Penguins at this point in time are Kris Letang and James Neal. Both represent significant sources of offense for this Penguins team, with Letang’s production coming from the blue line, and Neal being a key piece up front. While Letang could be nearing a return, it remains to be seen when Neal might be back in the lineup.

Playing without Letang doesn’t detract too much from the Penguins’ lineup overall, from a defensive perspective. He leaves a lot to be desired in that aspect of his game. But he’s one of the best puck-moving defensemen in the league, if not the best. That leaves a pretty significant gap in their gameplan. When he comes back, they’ll be even more dangerous.

As far as Neal goes, the Penguins could use him in the lineup, obviously, but they do have enough offensive firepower to succeed without him. When he does return, though, the Penguins will become even more dangerous in the offensive end.

The fact that the Pens have been able to go out and not only survive, but thrive, with two of their top players out early on in the season bodes well for them moving forward. There’s no reason to think that this team won’t be in the mix for a Stanley Cup title once again, and their hot start with key players out is just showing how deep they are.

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