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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A March of Penguins to the Locker Room

Originally Posted at www.ongoalanalysis.com

It seems in Pittsburgh, bad just got worse. Not only were the Penguins unable to capitalize on a Washington Capitals team stuck in a rut, but they lost some key players in their losing effort Wednesday night when the Caps took control of the game in the 3rd period to finish it 6-3.

The Washington Capitals come into Mellon Arena having lost its previous three contests and were ready to right their course, knowing they were facing the slumping Penguins who have simply been struggling with an identity crises for the previous 20 games. The Pens, however, were coming off an emotional victory the previous night against their cross-state rivals - a very good Philadelphia Flyers team.

For both teams this contest was to be a match of 'whatchya got'. And what they got was a game that started well with Pittsburgh controlling much of the tempo in the first, an evening in the second and then Caps domination in the third.

What they didn't get were as many players leaving the ice healthy by the end of the game as skated on at the beginning. Major blows were metered out to a struggling Penguins team as they lost defenseman and leading shot-blocker, Rob Scuderi who dropped to the ice to block Mike Green's shot and had the puck appear to meet his forhead right where the helmet does. The sound of equipment getting rattled was heard, but a pool of blood under a kneeling Scuderi was seen.

Fortunlately, Scuderi was able to skate off the ice with little assistance but did not return.

In the third period, the Penguins lost heart-and-soul player, Maxime Talbot (upper-body injury) and the extent of his injury is not yet known.

Most damaging, however, with under 4 minutes remaining in the game, was Sidney Crosby's exit with what appeared to be a leg injury.

Now this is really starting to hurt.

At the midpoint of the 2008-09 NHL season, Wednesday's game may be the 'breaking' point for the Penguins. Their struggles of late have been front and center in the hockey media (one of the best teams in the first 20 games/one of the worst in the last 20) and talks of trades and new coaches have all been refuted and rebuffed to this point.

But if the Eastern Conference Champs from last season are to make the playoffs this season (and OGA has already called them IN!) they must realize they are at the proverbial crossroads now if they are going to lose Crosby, Scuderi and Talbot for any extended period of time.

Keep in mind Scuderi led the team in blocked shots...and the Pens are 2nd in the NHL in blocked shots. When a team is struggling with offensive play, they have a tendency to try and tighten up the defensive game, hoping to capitilize on mistakes for offensive production. But without Crosby in the lineup....well, you get the idea here. Although Evgeni Malkin took the team on his shoulders last season when Crosby was out with the high-ankle sprain, this Pittsburgh team is not the same, confident bunch they were this time last year.

Since the Pens have just signed Jordan Staal to a 4-year contract extension, it silenced some of the trade rumors swirling about as a potential solution. And with Michel Therrien, their coach, working as best he can to inspire this team forward (and seemingly secure in his position - for now), one wonders what simply can be done at this juncture.

Playing Evgeni Malkin on the wing against the Caps seemed a good move - remember this was a close contest until the third period. But I think the time has come for this team to take more chances - and give Janne Pesonen the honest look his skills and stats merit. The Finnish eliter was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in late November/early December for only 6 games and saw no more than 7.16 of ice time (Nov 29th) and as little as 2.55 in his last game with the Pens (Dec 8th).

The 26 year old Pesonen was the leading scorer in the Finnish Elite League last season with 78 points in 56 games for Oulu Karpat and finished plus +39. Get him up to the Igloo, give him more than token ice time and see what he can do after a couple of weeks of playing with this battered and struggling Penguins squad. If no other shake-up can break the Pittsburgh Funk (2-8-0 in last 10 and no back-to-back wins since mid-November) and there is no unknown issue with Pesonen (does he bite? is his middle name Avery?), perhaps using the talent within the organization for a fresh approach may get these Penguins marching again.

Take me back to www.ongoalanalysis.com

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