March 7, 2011
Without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Pens Championship Hopes Dim
Looking at the overall stats, it’s hard to see why the Penguins can’t make another Stanley Cup run this season. As of Sunday, the Pens ranked tenth in total offense (2.8 goals per game), sixth in total defense (giving up 2.4 goals per game), and first in penalty kill defense (86.7%). More impressively, they sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and their 84 points are only two behind the first place Philadelphia Flyers.
But don’t let that fool you – the Penguins have virtually no chance to win the championship this season. That’s because the team is missing not only their two best players, but two of the best in all of hockey.
The Penguins were flying high after an 8-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 5th. Little did they know that the win would be a costly one. At the time, Sidney Crosby was looking more and more like the league’s Most Valuable Player. Through only 41 games, he had scored 32 goals and had a total of 66 points – better than a point and a half per game. But Crosby sustained a concussion in that contest and has been out with the injury ever since. The early projections were that he would likely miss about a week, but more than two months later, Crosby is still missing in action, and there is a possibility that he could be lost for the rest of the season.
The news only got worse for Pittsburgh when Evgeni Malkin suffered a season-ending knee injury a month later in a 3-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres. Malkin wasn’t having a great year, but the Penguins could have really used him with Crosby out. And when healthy, he can be one of the league’s best scorers – Malkin averaged nearly 40 goals per season over the first three years of his career, and, though playing only 67 games, he scored 28 goals last season.
Things have certainly taken a turn for the worse without both players. Pittsburgh has won only four of the 14 games since Malkin went down, and they’ve not yet won one in regulation; all of those victories came in overtime or shootouts.
With the possibility that both Crosby and Malkin will be out for the season, the Penguins made some moves before the trade deadline to try to improve the team. General Manager Ray Shero first traded with the Dallas Stars, sending 2004 second-round draft pick Alex Goligoski for winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen. Goligoski was a promising young defenseman, but Neal (who should soon be a 30-goal scorer) will give the Pens some much-needed scoring on the wing.
Shero wasn’t done, though. He then traded a conditional seventh-round draft pick to the Ottawa Senators for a familiar face in winger Alexei Kovalev. No one would argue that Kovalev has seen better days, and at 38, he’s obviously on the downside of his career. But he scored 44 goals the past two seasons, and he’s on pace to score more than 20 this year. Because of his age, he won’t be a part of the Penguins’ long-term plans. But Pittsburgh got exactly what it needed for the playoff run – an experienced player capable of scoring some goals.
Still, while Neal and Kovalev could help, they can’t make up for the production lost by the injuries to Crosby and Malkin. With Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh has a goaltender that’s won a Stanley Cup, but the offensive deficiencies are probably too great to overcome.
So while I expect Pittsburgh to reach the playoffs and even win a round or two, Stanley Cup expectations are going to have to be put on hold until next season.