PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – Now Kris Letang.
Can it get any worse?
Well, better now than in April, I guess.
So it was pretty stunning stuff on Thursday when it was announced that Letang, the Penguins’ breathtaking two-way defenseman, was out with an upper body injury. He is day-to-day in hockey parlance, but as fans of the pucks know, nothing can ever be taken for granted, particularly this time of year and particularly with Letang.
It might be a day, it might be a week, it might be longer — who knows. Especially with a guy who has an injury-checkered past like Letang, it’s all such a hairy situation. Again, let’s all hope he misses no more than the outdoor game and then is right back in there.
But the blindsided nature of the Letang announcement forced me to think about something — are injuries the one thing that can truly stop the Penguins?
Are they a better team — especially in a best-of-7-game format — than the Washington Capitals, the Columbus Blue Jackets and anyone the Western Conference has to offer?
It says here, yes.
As the Penguins are high-flying on offense right now (the lone team in the NHL to score more than 200 goals to this point on the season), I have to think the injury bug just might be the biggest impediment in their way.
Or, maybe, I’ll ask it this way: With the Penguins at full steam and 100 percent healthy, would you consider them underdogs against the Caps or Blue Jackets? How about against anyone from the West? Absolutely, positively, I wouldn’t.
That’s why it is all so frustrating the Letang news came not too long after the news of fellow blueliner Trevor Daley hit. For the second straight season, Daley — such a pivotal piece to the defense — will be sidelined at an important time. He underwent knee surgery and is out six weeks. Mesh that in with the injuries to Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz on defense and Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary who are prime candidates to do significant things for the offense down the stretch, and it is all so maddening.
Now, some of the injuries — such as Schultz’s — look to be heavily on the mend but it didn’t stop general manager Jim Rutherford from solidifying the blue line with the acquisition of Carolina defenseman Ron Hainsey, a solid, steadying force who doesn’t provide much flash but should be a useful part who is valued for his ability to not make mistakes.
But the Penguins being forced into such a move — definitely facilitated some by the loss of Daley for a long spell — is a stark reminder of the fragileness of a roster. It’s a reality that punches you right in the face with this team; at least from my vantage it does.
The biggest thing standing in the way of the Pittsburgh Penguins repeating as Stanley Cup champions is the health of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It isn’t another team, some goaltender issue, how the lines will be configured, some coaching decision, the talent of the fourth line or the make up of the defensive pairings.
Nope. It is health. If the Pittsburgh Penguins can get back healthy — and stay there throughout the playoffs — they have a darn good shot to repeat.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.