We’re currently in the final week of NHL action before the Olympic break, but there is a glaring need emerging for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
No, I’m not talking about help for the bottom six forwards either.
The Penguins absolutely need to find someone to play alongside Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz.
Pascal Dupuis went down with a season-ending knee injury during a 5-0 loss to the Senators on Dec. 23.
Since then, there’s been a revolving door at the vacant wing slot. Brian Gibbons has been the guy to fill in on the line recently, but I don’t believe he’s the solution for the long term.
While he does possess elite speed, he hasn’t done much in the way of lighting the lamp. In 17 games this season, Gibbons has three goals and five assists. Though, last night’s deflection goal on the power play was pretty nice.
Overall, he’s certainly gotten some chances, but just isn’t consistently producing results. Essentially, he’s not forcing Dan Bylsma’s hand to keep him on the top line.
Maybe it’s time to give Jayson Megna a long look. Like many other Penguins, Megna (four goals, two assists) has also seen time on the injured reserve list, but he returned to the lineup on Jan. 20.
However, his last goal came on Dec. 13 against the Devils. At this point, I’d give him a shot over the course of the next couple of games just to see what’s there, if anything.
Naturally, the player who should have benefited the most from Dupuis’ injury is still dealing with one of his own.
Beau Bennett suffered a wrist injury on Nov. 22 against the Islanders and was expected to miss 8-10 weeks. In 12 games this season, he registered one goal and two assists.
Now, he may be ready to go after the Olympics. That means he should get the shot among the top six forwards that many have been waiting for.
Should he return right after the Olympic break, he’d have three games to prove his case before the Trade Deadline on March 5th.
In short, that’s not a whole lot of time to make a convincing case that he can fit on the line and remain there for the stretch run and playoffs.
Will Shero pull the trigger on a trade for another rental winger, or perhaps shake things up a little to bring in a more permanent solution? Time will tell, but it’s no secret that the Penguins have a wealth of defensive depth. So, he has options.
To me, that line is lacking a skill player with some size. Somebody needs to be the guy to track down pucks in the corner or, at the very least, give Crosby some extra space on the ice.
Last night, the Senators bottled Crosby up all night. If other teams were paying attention, they would employ similar tactics to try and limit his chances.
Kunitz has been a wrecking ball at times and isn’t afraid to get in on the forecheck, but he needs help. If Kunitz is the one disrupting the play and Crosby is being watched like a hawk, all that’s left is either the defense or the third forward.
Given the number of players who have seen time as that third forward, it’s clear to me that the coaching staff hasn’t found a fit on the current roster.
Anyway, one good thing to come of all the injuries was that it allowed the Penguins to see what they have in guys like Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson, while giving another shot to Simon Despres. It also gave other teams around the league a look too. In theory, that could help Shero when it comes to trade talks.
So, just how much is Dupuis’ absence hurting Crosby and Kunitz? The short answer is not as much as you’d think. At least, not statistically.
As for Crosby, he’s still leading the NHL’s scoring race, but the pace has slowed down a little bit since Dupuis’ injury.
Since Dec. 23, Crosby has seven goals and 14 assists in 17 games, with one goal and six assists on the power play. That equates out to 1.24 points per game (PPG).
In the 39 games with Dupuis in the lineup, Crosby had 20 goals and 34 assists (1.38 PPG).
Kunitz hasn’t been affected much either in terms of point production without Dupuis.
In 17 games without Dupuis, Kunitz has seven goals and nine assists (0.94 PPG).
In the 39 games with Dupuis, Kunitz had 20 goals and 19 assists (1 PPG).
Obviously, this is a very cut and dry approach to the situation. These are just the numbers from which you can draw any number of conclusions.
There are many factors that play into these numbers, such as matchups, situations, etc.
It also says a lot about how good Crosby and Kunitz are together that they are still producing without their third musketeer, as it were.
However, the chemistry factor cannot be measured. It’s no secret the trio of Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis is extremely dangerous and plays well together. Right now, the line just doesn’t look the same and it may not until next season when Dupuis would presumably rejoin the line.
The Penguins’ bottom six forwards could use an upgrade as well, but that could be helped by default if the Penguins were to land a winger for the Crosby line.
As for the short term, which candidates the Penguins might target could be tough to judge because so many teams are still within striking range of the playoffs.
I get the feeling many of the bubble teams will be making up their minds to be buyers or sellers at the deadline during the Olympic break.
At any rate, the next few weeks will be interesting.
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