Worrying about the depth of the Pittsburgh Penguins


penguinslogo.gifIt’s Sunday morning and that sometimes means I get to thinking a bit wacky, but hold steady with me here through this one. There’s a very popular NHL team that, outside of a couple of signings, has been relatively very quiet. They improved one area that needed strengthening rather badly and that will certainly help them improve greatly. There was another nagging area that still hasn’t been fully addressed, and it’s an area that seen them even lose helpful players and it makes me worry a bit about them.

So who is this perplexing yet highly talented team? It’s the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens made their big splashes of the off-season by signing Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek to help offset the loss of Sergei Gonchar and strengthen their back line. While neither Martin nor Michalek have the offensive prowess of Gonchar, they’re outstanding players nonetheless and Martin will take over Gonchar’s role as the team’s puck-moving defenseman.  Aside from those two players, the only other signing of note they’ve made is the one made just the other day to lock down forward Arron Asham. The Penguins’ forward depth, as it stands now, looks to be worrisome.

Yes, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal are brilliant players and the amount of offense they bring to the table is more than impressive. With Staal and Malkin tentatively set to be playing on the same line together. That’s uniting Staal and his 49 points from last year (21g, 48a) with the other-worldly Malkin (28g, 49a in 65 games) in a partnership that should see both their numbers rise.Throwing a guy like Matt Cooke next to those two might even help him snap out of being more of a distraction than a helper.

Sidney Crosby, at the moment, seems like a man on an island. He’s looking at Pascal Dupuis as his main man on right wing now that Bill Guerin has seemingly moved on. Having a 51-goal scorer and annual MVP candidate find ways to make other players around him better is nothing new, but getting that complimentary piece on the right wing for him would be great. Chris Kunitz does a fine job playing the physical winger has its toll. He played in just 50 games last year for the Pens and scored 13 goals. Maybe it’s just a signal of what it’s like for the Pens in the salary cap world, but a potential Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis first line doesn’t really grab you by the collar and shake you up.

What’s working for the Pens is that their third and fourth lines are going to be real pains to deal with. Maxime Talbot, Tyler Kennedy, Arron Asham, Craig Adams,  helps balance out their bottom two lines and gives them a bit more skill there. What the Pens have waiting in the wings in guys like Chris Conner and Mark Letestu make for decent depth players to fill holes when needed.

The Penguins are built like a team that will be a major pain in the rear-end come playoff time and there’s little doubt that they will be a playoff team, but is there enough offensively talented depth here to help them sustain a series against a team that throws the clamps down defensively? After all, we saw what an other-worldly goaltending performance and a defensive-centric approach did against the Pens in the playoffs last year.

While Staal’s time on the ice won’t suffer from being on the third line anymore, stressing time with just two lines, one of which that sees the team’s best player become even more of a target to clamp down on has to be a bit of a worry. This isn’t to say that the Pens are going to suffer, they won’t. You can’t suffer when you’ve got two of the best players in the league on your roster. Things might just not be as simple as they’ve always seemed is all.

The Panthers are healthy scratching Bolland, and he is their highest-paid forward, but they insist they’re not sending a message

Dave Bolland, Derek Nansen
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It feels like there’s a story brewing in Florida, where Dave Bolland — the team’s most-expensive forward, at $5.5 million a season — has been a healthy scratch for three consecutive games.

But according to head coach Gerard Gallant, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Gallant said, per the Miami Herald. “He sat out, our team is playing well. There’s nothing more than that. We have to sit two guys and I like the way we’re playing. The next game is a different game. We may change something up, who knows.”

Bolland had just one goal and five points in 18 games prior to getting parked in the press box. Well, technically he got dropped to the fourth line before hitting the press box, but you get the idea. He’s not exactly in Gallant’s good graces.

Not helping Bolland’s case is the fact that, as Gallant pointed out, the club is playing pretty well without him. The Panthers have rebounded from a rough start to November by winning back-to-back games against the Islanders and Red Wings, which set them up nicely for the remainder of this current five-game road swing.

Florida has games still to play in St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus and New Jersey. It’ll be interesting to see when — or, if — he draws back into the lineup.

In closing, a reminder that Bolland’s in the second of a five-year, $27.5 million deal.

Canucks rookie Virtanen exits with upper-body injury, won’t return


After sitting out Friday’s game in Dallas, Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had to be excited at drawing back in for tonight’s game against the Ducks.

Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long.

Virtanen suffered an upper-body injury after playing just 1:45 in the opening frame, and was ruled out of the contest during the intermission. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but it looks like Virtanen was injured on a hit by Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.

Virtanen didn’t take another shift following the incident, and Getzlaf was given a minor penalty on the play.

While we don’t know what the injury is or it’s severity, losing Virtanen for any length of time would have ramifications for the Canucks and this year’s Canadian entry at the World Juniors. There has been talk of Virtanen possibly being released by the Canucks to participate in the tournament; last year, he was part of the team that captured gold in Montreal and Toronto.

Virtanen has played in 18 games for the Canucks this year, scoring one goal and four points while averaging 10:17 TOI per night.

McLellan sounds off on Oilers after shutout loss in Toronto

Todd McLellan

Edmonton lost for the fourth time in five games on Monday, a 3-0 defeat in Toronto that marked the second time in a week the Oilers have been shut out.

Needless to say, the head coach wasn’t happy.

In a fairly blunt and harsh assessment aimed at a variety of players, Todd McLellan had some choice words for what he called a “disappointing” effort.

Some of the more choice quotes:

“I didn’t think we were a very hard team. I didn’t think we stood over a lot of pucks. I didn’t think we won a lot of battles along the boards. I didn’t think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas.”

“When I look at the trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under-perform on the trip. Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be the [Leon DraisaitlTaylor Hall line] that provides that.”

It’s fair to suggest that last one was directed at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Nugent-Hopkins has just two points and zero goals in his last five games, with a minus-8 rating. Eberle is pointless entirely, and also at minus-8 over the same stretch.

They’re hardly the only Oilers not pulling their weight at the moment, however. Edmonton has lost 15 times in its first 25 games, a figure that suggests there are more problems that just a couple of underachieving forwards.

Just ask McLellan, who all but admitted his team has issues matching up.

“We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”

Roy: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov


The tough times continue for Semyon Varlamov.

After another unsuccessful outing on Monday — allowing four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Islanders — Varlamov was subjected to a familiar refrain: Patrick Roy saying the Avs need more from their No. 1 netminder.


You can hear all of the head coach’s comments in the video above but, for brevity’s sake, here’s the Varlamov stuff:

“It’s not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn’t get it on the road. It’s hard to win if you’re giving four goals on the road.

“We just need more from him. He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

There has to be serious concern about Varlamov right now, if there wasn’t already.

His save percentage through seven games in November (.891) is marginally better than it was through seven games in October (.889), and that’s not the only alarming stat. Varlamov’s yet to record a shutout this year, yet to record back-to-back victories and has given up at least three goals in six of his last seven starts.

Not good.

Compounding things for Colorado are the standings. The Avs are now 9-14-1 and mired in the Central Division basement, meaning that — if they have any hope of going on a tear and getting back into playoff content — they’ll need to do it soon.

Which means they might not have the time, or the patience, for Varlamov to find his game.