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Penguins

Shea-ved Ice: Road To Recovery

By: Casey Shea
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(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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It wasn’t all that long ago that we were all talking about a plethora of injuries that the Pittsburgh Penguins were dealing with.

While there are still a few guys on the mend, things are looking better. However, it remains to be seen what will happen to the lineup when everyone returns.

Currently, Sidney Crosby (concussion), Brooks Orpik (broken finger), Mark Letestu (upper-body), Arron Asham (concussion), Nick Johnson (concussion), Eric Tangradi (concussion) and Mike Comrie (hip) are out.

Of course, those are the players that have a chance at returning this season. Evgeni Malkin won’t be ready to go until training camp in the fall after tearing his ACL and MCL.

Asham said earlier this week that he’s hoping to play against the New York Rangers tomorrow afternoon.

Comrie returned to practice on Thursday for the first time since undergoing surgery on his hip. There’s no timetable for his return, but it’s not out of the question to assume he’d be ready to go for the playoffs.

On Thursday, head coach Dan Bylsma said Dustin Jeffrey would likely center the top line with Alex Kovalev and James Neal on the wings until Letestu returns. He is listed as day-to-day at this point.

The question now is what happens when everyone comes back? Which guys are going to sit in the press box and watch the games?

On Thursday, the Penguins used these lines in practice:

Forwards:

Neal-Jeffrey-Kovalev
Kunitz-Staal-Kennedy
Cooke-Talbot-Dupuis
Rupp-Adams-Conner
Asham-Comrie-Godard

Defense:

Martin-Michalek
Niskanen-Engelland
Letang-Lovejoy

This takes into consideration Letestu being out. Let’s assume Crosby doesn’t come back this season. Let’s also assume Johnson, Tangradi, Comrie and Letestu are healthy in time for the playoffs. Orpik is also expected to be back within a week or two as well.

Which forwards should crack the lineup? Which should sit?

Again, assuming all are healthy I’d go with lines of:

Forwards:

Neal-Letestu-Kovalev
Kunitz-Staal-Kennedy
Cooke-Talbot-Dupuis
Comrie-Adams-Jeffrey

Defense:

Martin-Michalek
Niskanen-Engelland
Letang-Orpik

Scratches: Asham, Conner, Tangradi, Johnson, Rupp, Godard, Lovejoy

Up front, there’s admittedly not a ton of grit. Clearly not as much as when Rupp, Godard and Asham play, but this is a group of players than can push the tempo of a game.

Right now, it appears as if the Penguins will face the Washington Capitals or Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs. There’s also a chance they could get a rematch against the Canadiens. At any rate,  speed will be a major factor.

I would anticipate the pace of those games to be pretty quick, so having better skaters in the lineup would seem to make sense. That’s especially true if they meet Washington or Tampa Bay. Against Montreal I’d add a guy like Rupp back into the lineup to add some sandpaper to the roster.

Cooke, Talbot, Adams and Engelland are not afraid to drop the gloves or get involved in the rough stuff in needed either.

To me, Asham hasn’t shown much of anything this season and that’s largely due to injuries. While the added depth of having him available is nice, there’s just guys I would rather see in the lineup than him if it came down to it.

In 36 games, he has five goals and five assists to go along with 37 penalty minutes this season.

The great part about having that many players to choose from is that should the Penguins need to add a little grit or finesse to the lineup, Bylsma would have it at his disposal.

If the Penguins needed a little more scoring, they could insert someone like Johnson. Tangradi would provide another power forward option that could also be used on the power play.

For as much as Comrie didn’t appear to mesh with the team during his brief early season stint, he had moments of brilliance in the preseason.

Say what you want about preseason and how much it doesn’t count, but you don’t know how much the hip injury was hampering him to begin the regular season.

He’s put up respectable point totals in the past and would be worth at least a look in the playoffs. The audition of sorts would be good for both Comrie and the Penguins.

Comrie’s contract expires after the season and the Penguins only have seven forwards signed for next season.

Should he impress, Ray Shero may be inclined to keep the veteran center around for another year. He would probably come pretty cheap again unless he goes nuts in the playoffs.

In any event, it’s exciting to see guys closer to returning to the lineup and to see Crosby skate for three consecutive days with no setbacks.

I still don’t want to see him in the lineup until he’s 100 percent symptom free for an extended period of time.

Should he be out until training camp or beyond so that he fully heals, then that’s what needs to happen. The last thing anyone wants to have happen is to see his career get cut short because he came back from injury too soon.

This is still a dangerous hockey team without Crosby and Malkin and a team that will be a very tough out in the playoffs.

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CaseySheaPens.

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