Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi will miss the next 6-8 weeks after having surgery on his broken ankle Wednesday. The injury occurred Saturday in Pittsburgh’s 4-1 loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He left the game in the first period after colliding with David Clarkson along the boards and did not return.
Scuderi helped the Penguins in their Stanley Cup run in 2009 and was re-signed this year after winning a Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012. His nickname around the locker room is “the piece.” Now the question for Pittsburgh is, who is going to step up on the blue line to replace that “piece” of what was a complete puzzle?
Do not hit the panic button just yet. The fact that Olli Maatta was kept at the NHL level after his first nine games was a plus. The 19-year old has been a pleasant surprise and building great chemistry with Robert Bortuzzo on the third unit. Kris Letang is back and healthy, and Paul Martin has been playing well on the top unit with Brooks Orpik.
Deryk Engelland, who has been spending some time as a right winger on the fourth line, could always jump back to the blue line if needed. Head coach Dan Bylsma likes having Engelland in the lineup when pinned up against some of their intense rivals (New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers).
The Penguins came into this season having more depth on defense than they might have thought. In the worst-case scenario, they can always call up Simon Despres from Wilkes Barre/Scranton if someone else goes down. Despres already had his feet wet in the NHL last year and very well could be the next Letang.
All of these players will have a crucial role going forward, but the X-factor is the guy a lot of people may overlook. That man is Matt Niskanen.
One would think there is no way he could play any better right now. He is already off to his best start in his NHL career. Through his first 13 games this season, he has a goal and seven assists with a very impressive plus-10 rating. He is playing very well in his own zone, skating better than he ever has, blocking shots and shooting the puck … a lot.
He is on pace for over 130 shots on goal this season and could be more if he gets some power play time.
There was some speculation going into this season that Niskanen could be traded sometime before the deadline in order to free some cap space. However, given the circumstances and unfortunate injuries to the team, the eight-year veteran could be forced to dig deep down and play at an elite level, especially while skating with Norris candidate Letang.
It is not like the Penguins do not have the depth at the position. Their defensive corps is arguably the best in the league when all are healthy. Marc-Andre Fleury is finally looking like his old self again because of the confidence he has in the guys in front of him.
If anything, GM Ray Shero needs to go out and grab a solid backup goaltender for Fleury. In case you have forgotten, Tomas Vokoun is one of the many players on the shelf for Pittsburgh and will not return until after the Olympics.