By: Casey Shea

2012 is officially upon us and while the new year generally promises a chance at a new start, it’s been all too familiar for the Penguins.

The Penguins’ injury list is beyond words. It’s staggering how many players are either on it, or have been on it over the last 12 months.

I’m not going to rehash it because even the most casual fans at least know the big names that have missed significant amounts of time.

As a personal note, last week I was on vacation. I went back home to Maine to visit family and friends and watched two college hockey games at Fenway Park.

UMaine beat UNH 5-4 in OT in one of the craziest games I’ve ever seen. (Take that UNH!)

Anyway, I was able to monitor Penguins games and news from my phone on the trip.

The news about Jordan Staal and James Neal potentially missing “weeks” was enough to crush any good feelings generated from watching the Wildcats skate off the ice with their tails between their legs.

Granted, the Neal news turned for the better when it was announced the crack in his foot was suffered a long time ago and that he would remain in the lineup.

However, Staal’s status did not get upgraded.

The news on the ice didn’t get any better as the Penguins dropped game after game and became mired in a six-game losing streak.

Last night, the streak finally came to an end with a 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers, but the Penguins had to earn it.

Pittsburgh dominated the opening period of play, but four posts kept the game scoreless after one period. Three of those iron-clanging shots came on one single power play.

I have no confirmation of this, but I’m fairly certain that has to be some kind of record.

If you’re in a losing streak, hit four posts and get denied on two breakaways in one period, thoughts of “here we go again” have to start creeping into your head right?

Whether you pay attention to those thoughts or continue to go out and do something to reverse it is the real test.

The Penguins came out in the second period and were finally rewarded for their efforts with two weird goals.

Scott Clemmensen turned the puck over on the first and Steve Sullivan hammered a one-timer into an almost empty net to put the Pens up 1-0.

Then, with under a minute to play in the second period, Evgeni Malkin gathered in his own rebound off a 2-on-1 chance and banked it in off of Clemmensen from behind the goal line.

It was just what the Penguins needed. They came out in the third period and added to the lead 36 seconds in after Tyler Kennedy finished a rare 4-on-2 break.

James Neal would add a late goal to seal the win, but the Penguins never backed down. There were times in the third where it looked like they had gone into a shell and were running around their defensive zone.

However, Marc-Andre Fleury was there to bail them out and made several absurd saves on golden scoring opportunities to preserve the win.

All in all, it ended up being a rare positive day for the Pens. Even Sidney Crosby returned to the ice for the final 30 minutes of the morning skate.

There’s still no timetable for his return (shocking), but I’m sure we’ll see a massive resurrection of the #CrosbyWatch tag on Twitter in the near future.

Speaking of Neal, how in the world is he not an All-Star?

I know the game means nothing and is mainly a glorified game of pick-up hockey, but 22 goals isn’t good enough to get on the team?

The fan voting aspect of the All-Star Game is completely ridiculous. I know if the game were here in Pittsburgh, fans would end up electing at least 8 guys to the squad.

That’s fine. I get it, but come on.

Five Senators are going to be at the game? Really? Five? That doesn’t seem a tad excessive?

Four of those five were among the first six All-Stars who were voted in by the fans. One of those four is Milan Michalek who has 23 goals and only eight assists.

By comparison, Neal has 22 goals and 18 assists.

There’s no sense getting all jazzed up about this issue, but there should be some other way of selecting players to participate in this event.

Fan voting is fine, but maybe don’t give it as much weight as it has.

Actually, it’s probably not a bad thing that Malkin is the only representative for the Penguins. It will give the rest of the club some extra time to heal up as they prepare for the stretch run to the playoffs.

Regardless, the second half of the season is underway. The win over the Panthers kept the Penguins tied for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with the Washington Capitals.

Remember when we had fun debating who would finish first in the conference between Washington and Pittsburgh?

Now, the same two teams are fighting just to make it in.

Either way, it should be an interesting next few months to say the least.

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For More Penguins Coverage Check Out Puck Talk With Popchock.


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