More Injuries Force Pittsburgh Penguins to Utilize Role Players

By Jeff Ekiert
Jayson Megna
Charles LeClaire- USA TODAY Sports

It is no wonder why the Pittsburgh Penguins have retained their label as one of the best teams in the NHL. Facing enormous adversities throughout the season has forced the team to rely on their minor league system more than they anticipated. The good news is that they have the talent to spare.

With Evgeni Malkin and Pascal Dupuis listed as day-to-day with lower body injuries, Jussi Jokinen has been moved back to his natural position at center on the second line. Jayson Megna accompanied Jokinen and James Neal during the team’s 5-1 win over the San Jose Sharks Thursday night and scored his third goal of the season.

With Megna’s speed and awareness, this has made him an asset. Of course, there is no replacing Malkin, but Pittsburgh is still considered to own one of the better second lines in hockey even with “Geno” on the shelf.

Dupuis still has a chance to play Saturday night against the Boston Bruins, however, they may have found themselves in a slight dilemma when the team announced Andrew Ebbett is out indefinetely with a broken ankle. Another WilkesBarre stand-out who has seen limited action has filled in nicely in head coach Dan Bylsma‘s new third line. Ebbett, Brandon Sutter and Chris Conner have been showing promising chemistry during the last handful of games. Now with that unit broken up, what are Bylsma’s options?

Luckily for Pittsburgh, Chuck Kobasew has returned and may find himself back on the third line with Sutter and Conner. It appeared as though Kobasew would have stayed on the fourth line with Craig Adams and Joe Vitale, but his offensive talent among the bottom six forwards will be needed. Kobasew did indeed show some good chemistry skating with Sutter during the first couple games of the season when he scored his only two goals.

As far as the fourth line goes, Vitale and Adams may be reunited with Harry Zolnierczyk, who was just brought back up. Zolnierczyk has yet to register a point after appearing in three games for the Penguins this season.

On the defensive side of things, the Penguins are showing the most resiliency in that department. After losing Rob Scuderi weeks ago with a broken ankle, Paul Martin was the next to go with a broken leg and will miss the next four to six weeks. Two of the Penguins’ better defensemen are on the shelf meaning what for Pittsburgh?

Thanks to the tremendous depth at the blueline, Bylsma was recently able to call upon a familiar and reliable face in Simon Despres. The young Wilkes-Barre product was nothing short of fantastic in his rookie season for the Penguins last year and has developed his defensive game a lot more since the last time we saw him.

And lastly, with more defensemen than Bylsma knew what to do with, Deryk Engelland was being used on the fourth line before losing Martin and Scuderi and was serving well as a right winger. Since being plugged back into his defensive position, he has been joining Brooks Orpik on the top unit lately and performing at a high level that will make it hard for Pittsburgh not to re-sign him this season. Engelland is on the final year of his three-year contract and the Penguins have truly benefited from having him in the lineup.

So as you can see, despite losing a handful of key players due to unfortunate injuries, the Penguins remain one of the top teams in the NHL. They have a commanding 11-point lead in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 20-9-1. Imagine what this team will accomplish when everyone is back and healthy. They will face the same problem they have had in the past — not knowing who to keep and who to send back to the AHL. And that is always a good problem to have.

Jeff Ekiert is the Pittsburgh Penguins/NHL beat writer for Like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @jmekiert and add him to your Google account.

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