Injuries can really change the makeup and the momentum of a hockey team. When a key player for your team goes down, then someone has to replace them in the lineup, as well as replace them during valuable minutes on either the power play or the penalty kill.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been dealing with injuries on their blue line for most of the season. Star blue liner Kris Letang started the season on the shelf. Free-agent pickup Rob Scuderi was out of the lineup for a while due to an ankle injury. Top shutdown pairing of Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin have both been in and out of the lineup.
These injuries caused the Penguins to bring up young, fast defensive players from the minor leagues. These players seemed to gel nicely and helped get the Penguins to the top of the division, as well as the top of the Eastern Conference.
Now with Martin, Scuderi, Orpik and Letang all back for the Penguins Sunday against the Winnipeg Jets, those young players were out of the lineup and the veteran starters were back in. The team’s defensive play just did not look the same in this game.
Is this a serious problem the Penguins are going to have to deal with for the rest of the season?
It is possible that the jolt of young blood sparked the Penguins for the short-term, and that may have lasted for the entire season. It is also possible that it is time for some of the old blood to move aside for the new.
Now, I am not talking about players like Letang, who is only coming into his prime, however, I am talking about players like Orpik. Orpik has been one of the best defensemen for the Penguins since he came up to the team. However, his body has been taking a beating, especially after getting knocked out in a game during the Boston Bruins this season.
The Penguins’ defense let up goals to the Jets that just have not been like them this season. Another cause of this could be that the veteran defensive pairing of Scuderi and Letang just need time to gel. These two players have barely played together at all since Scuderi was re-acquired in the offseason. It has been the plan all along that these two would play together and be the top pairing for the Penguins.
Do these two just need more time to find chemistry, or does the coaching staff need to re-align the defense to help better support the team?
Yes, poor defensively played games happen to every team, no matter who plays for that team. It is still something to think about for the Penguins moving forward. If these pairings continue to play badly, does this playoff-built team need to change things up to solidify the blue line? Only time will tell.