Penguins Battling Through Injury Bug in Quest to Defend Cup

Penguins Battling Through Injury Bug in Quest to Defend Cup Defending a Stanley Cup is never easy, but attempting to do so with as many injuries as the Penguins have experienced this season is looking nearly impossible for Sidney Crosby and company.

FrankD from SB Nation's Pensburgh blog joined us to answer some questions about the Pens as the defending champs come to Boston for the first meeting of the season between these two Eastern Conference powerhouses.

NESN.com: Sidney Crosby already has a ring and more than 400 career points, and he’s barely old enough to legally drink in the States. If he keeps this up, where do you see Crosby ranking on the all-time list and why?

FrankD: Whoa, tough question right out of the gate, huh? Well, let's break it down as best we can without getting too ahead of ourselves. Crosby did just recently crack the Top 10 in all-time Penguins scoring. Paul Coffey is next on the list with 440, but Sid has a ways to go before he even comes close to Mario Lemieux's 1,723 or Jaromir Jagr's 1,079. Is this feasible?  Perhaps. I won't say yes or no at this point, but currently he's on pace to get 1,200 points around the 900-game mark. So even if he does rank that high in the franchise, it's going to take a while. But if you really need me to guess where he'll land on the all-time list, I'll take the safe bet and just say Top 3.

NESN.com:
Who has stepped up in the absence of stars Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar?

FrankD: Defenseman Alex Goligoski has been huge. Tyler Kennedy is also a huge asset when he's healthy, but that's the issue right now – he's not. A nagging groin injury has left him in and out of a couple of games, and from what I've been reading, it's likely that he'll sit out a few more because he rushed back too soon. So Goligoski, Kris Letang and even Chris Kunitz, to a degree, are all chipping in while the big guns are out. But even now, the word is that Letang will be out for a while with a shoulder injury, sustained in the abysmal loss to San Jose. It's really turning into more of a team effort out there right now, and to be completely honest, the wins aren't pretty, and they're not coming easy.
 
NESN.com: Years ago, we here in Boston were able to see what Bill Guerin can bring to a team. What has he done for this Penguins team?

FrankD: The guy's a leader, simply put. So far, he's not exactly lighting it up out there, and a lot of fans are asking for his demotion from the first line, but no winger on Crosby's line has ever gone more than a month or two without being criticized beyond belief. Guerin is no exception, so I really don't think we'll see him move off that line. Bounces haven't really been going his way lately, but Guerin's getting the chances and will just have to grind this one out.

NESN.com: Pittsburgh has had a very successful run in recent years. Is the Steel City a football town or a hockey town?

FrankD: As big a hockey fan as I am and as big as the Penguins' following really is, I have to say it's still a football town. I don't even think it's fair to say there's an even split between the two either. The Steelers definitely have a bigger fan base. But hey, that hasn't stopped the arena from selling out 120-plus straight home games. I hear there's also a baseball team in town, but I think it might just be a beer league.
 
NESN.com: This is the final year of the NHL’s oldest and smallest venue, Mellon Arena. Are Pens fans more excited for the Consol Energy Center or more upset that they are losing the intimacy of the igloo?

FrankD: Oh, I think it's safe to say that fans are excited about the new place. The team is really making an effort already to give it that traditional feel: 66 boxed seats in honor of Lemieux, and 18,087 seats, in honor of Crosby. Fans have been cheering for a new place for years, so I think the final home game will be a healthy mix of emotions. Overall, though, I'd say fans are ready for CEC but understand the effort of honoring Mellon in its last season.

NESN.com: After a rough start to his NHL career, Marc-Andre Fleury has emerged into one of the game’s best, and he’s not even 25 years old. Is Tom Barrasso’s legend in jeopardy?

FrankD: There's definitely a good chance. Tommy B recorded 226 wins as a Penguin, and the man they call Flower already has 121. Seeing as how he's locked up till 2014, he has six seasons to pick up another 105 wins at roughly 18 per season. Health permitting, I'd say he's on the right track to set a new franchise record for wins. Winning the Cup and watching his ridiculous save to close out the final seconds of Game 7 will only add to the growing legend.

NESN.com: The Pens have won 12 games heading into this Bruins matchup, but except for early wins over the Rangers and Flyers, they have had a somewhat easy schedule. What have the recent losses to some better teams like Los Angeles and San Jose proven about this team?

FrankD: Saturday's 5-0 loss to the Sharks is a prime example of an upper-tier team completely dismantling the Penguins. On one hand, the Penguins are really injured right now, but as a lot of Pens fans have been saying all weekend, you really can't use that as an excuse. Heck, the Penguins have already admitted it's no excuse for poorly played games. But it's really starting to show on the roster. 

The Pens headed into Saturday's game with six defensemen: Jay McKee, Mark Eaton, Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski, Brooks Orpik and Martin Skoula. It was already noted that Goligoski was playing with the flu before the puck even dropped, so really it felt more like 5 1/2 defenders. Next thing you know, Letang goes down with a shoulder injury – so cut that to 4 1/2.  McKee gets kicked in the third, so now that's 3 1/2 defensemen to ride the rest of the game out. 

If anything, this batch of injuries should really prove as a rally point for the Pens. No one is saying it will be easy, but coming out with a .500 record during this stretch isn't impossible.

NESN.com: Which player has been the biggest surprise this season?

FrankD: Alex Goligoski, by far, with six goals and seven assists over 17 games and a league-leading plus-14 rating. Here's a guy who played 45 games last season when both Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar were absent from the blue line and picked up 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in the process. This season, 'GoGo' looks like he's been doing it for years as he's poised on the blue line, has great puck movement on the power play and strong defensive positioning — he's no doubt the future of Pittsburgh's defensive corps.

Another big thanks goes out to FrankD for his insight and info on the defending champs. Be sure to bookmark his Penguins blog, Pensburgh.

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