When a team has 76 points, sits atop the Metropolitan Division as well as the Eastern Conference and has only lost four hockey games on home ice this season, one would think that consistency isn’t a problem. However, the flip side to that coin is the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins, even with all of their success, have also suffered through the most injuries of any team in the entire NHL.
As crazy as it seems, even with the injuries, the Penguins keep winning. However, if you’ve watched the Penguins play recently you can notice that even with starters re-emerging into the lineup after injury they are still searching for a great deal of consistency. All of these issues are related.
When Beau Bennett suffered a wrist injury that still has him on the shelf, it forced the Penguins to find a winger to play along side Evgeni Malkin on the second line. Jussi Jokinen luckily has filled in nicely and James Neal on the other wing has been a great line combination. With the second line solidified it looked as if the Penguins’ top two lines would be complete and would make the team an offensive machine. Then came the loss of Pascal Dupuis for the season due to a fluke ACL injury. Replacing Sidney Crosby‘s wing is not an easy task when the line of Chris Kunitz, Crosby and Dupuis has been so lethal for so long.
Now comes the lack of consistency. Head coach Dan Bylsma has tried a myriad of combinations in that slot. Joe Vitale, Chuck Kobasew and recently Brian Gibbons have all flanked Crosby on his line. There will be more combinations tried by Bylsma and company, but the absence of Dupuis leaves the Penguins’ offense in a state of flux.
What needs to happen is for the Penguins to commit to someone and let them develop a chemistry with Crosby and Kunitz. The uncanny ability of Crosby, Kunitz and Dupuis to know where one another will be at all times is what made them the best line in all of hockey, but take one wheel off and the cart wobbles. It’s up to Bylsma to find a wheel that will fit for the duration of the season. Some think Gibbons might be that player who has the speed and grit to play alongside arguably the greatest player in the world. Jayson Megna is another player who might get an opportunity to play with No. 87 before all is said and done.
With more players like Bennett and Vitale returning to the lineup, eventually you will see lines get juggled again. But if the Penguins can fill the top two lines with consistency then Bennett and Vitale can return to help Brandon Sutter and the third and fourth lines on the team.
The lineup consistency that is so desperately needed will only help with the team’s consistency on the ice. It’s hard to believe that the team that is tied for the second most points in the entire league would be struggling with consistency. But when it comes down to it consistency is what wins in the playoffs, and that is what the Penguins strive for the most.