Many people will tell you straight up that the Boston Bruins have the best depth in the NHL from their top line all the way down to their fourth line. The San Jose Sharks are without a doubt in that discussion as well. Next to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Sharks could very well be the deepest team in the Western Conference.
But after the Pittsburgh Penguins dismantled San Jose Thursday night, 5-1 on a night they played without Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins have many turning their heads. San Jose’s six-game winning streak came to an end and Pittsburgh ran their streak to five games. On top of that, the Penguins lost forward Pascal Dupuis halfway through the game with an undisclosed injury and did not return.
Even without their hottest player on the ice, Pittsburgh got plenty of offensive power from their regulars and some from their younger studs recently brought up from Wilkes-Barre.
Jayson Megna who skated alongside Jussi Jokinen and James Neal on the second unit netted his third goal in his tenth game in the NHL and came close to scoring a second.
Once Dupuis left the game, Joe Vitale found himself getting time on the top unit with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz who scored a pair. Vitale has already made a case as one of the best fourth-line centers in the league. Even when battling losses throughout a game or missing key players, the Penguins always find a way to get contribution from their other role players.
Craig Adams who rarely shows up on the score sheet is one of the best defensive forwards and penalty killers in the game and plays a huge role for Pittsburgh night in and night out. With a slew of injuries and the loss of Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke, head coach Dan Bylsma has been working to find a new third line centered by Brandon Sutter. Since moving Jokinen to the second line with Malkin and Neal, Sutter has been skating alongside Andrew Ebbett and Chris Conner. How long those two will stay at the NHL level is unknown.
It seems as though every time the Penguins call up a forward from the AHL, they are sent back down in replacement of another. Brian Gibbons was a guy who many thought would have found a spot in this lineup after a two-point NHL debut weeks ago. Zach Sill is another speedy forward who has seen some time. No matter who they bring up, they are getting more than they ask for from the young rookies.
Now that Chuck Kobasew has returned after missing almost a month, he was skating on the fourth line with Vitale and Adams. When you have Kobasew on your fourth line, is it fair to say you have depth? I think so, too.
After losing guys like Kennedy and Cooke, it has been a mystery as to how the Penguins remain one of the top penalty killing units in the NHL. Bylsma is constantly throwing guys out there from Gibbons to Conner to Sill to Megna. Everyone is doing their part it seems.
Depending on the extent of Dupuis’ injury, expect Pittsburgh to call Gibbons back up for their games against the Boston Bruins Saturday. I’m no expert on reading Bylsma’s mind, but it would be awesome if my line predictions were accurate: Gibbons-Crosby-Kunitz, Megna-Jokinen/Malkin-Neal, Conner-Sutter-Ebbett, Kobasew-Vitale-Adams.