Worrying about the depth of the Pittsburgh Penguins

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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 Buzzer: Malkin paces Penguins, Vegas keeps on winning

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Player of the night: Evgeni Malkin

Evgeni Malkin helped get things started for the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, and then he finished the game off with the overtime winner to send the New York Rangers to a fourth consecutive loss.

Malkin scored once, added three assists and even dropped the gloves in a 5-4 overtime victory, as the Penguins came back with a late — and crafty — third period goal from Sidney Crosby.

Talk about the Penguins being opportunistic on the winner. Off a defensive zone faceoff win for the Rangers, Ryan McDonagh made a terrible giveaway right beside his own net, giving the puck to Phil Kessel, who slipped it over to Malkin for the quick one-timer.

Highlight of the night:

There were a few candidates for this tonight. Phil Kessel once again showed off that tremendous wrist shot. Thomas Vanek decided to blast a slap shot on a breakaway, going post and in against the Senators. Nikita Kucherov had a perfect shot against Cory Schneider after previously setting up teammate Vladislav Namestnikov for a pretty goal versus the Devils. Yes, there were a few options.

But, we’ll go back to Winnipeg for this one. Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson not only protects the puck from Jacob Trouba on the breakaway, but then dekes out Steve Mason with the move to the forehand.

Factoid of the night:

The Vegas Golden Knights won again, giving them a 5-1 record to begin their inaugural season. That puts them in elite company.

Scores:

New Jersey 5, Tampa Bay 4 (SO)

San Jose 5, Montreal 2

Pittsburgh 5, New York 4 (OT)

Philadelphia 5, Florida 1

Toronto 2, Washington 0

Vancouver 3, Ottawa 0

Nashville 4, Colorado 1

Columbus 5, Winnipeg 2

Dallas 3, Arizona 1

Vegas 5, Buffalo 4 (OT)

Carolina 5, Edmonton 3

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Sharks send Habs to their fifth straight loss

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Make that five straight losses for the Montreal Canadiens.

Jonathan Drouin had a goal and an assist on Shea Weber‘s power play blast, giving the Habs center a two-point night. That’s one of the few bright spots, as Montreal lost by a score of 5-2 to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

This was a battle of two teams struggling to start the new season, with each sitting on only one victory. For the Habs, that victory was back on Oct. 5 in their season opener against Buffalo.

Since then, however . . .

And it isn’t about to get any easier for the Habs. This was the start of a stretch that includes three games in four nights against the bruising California teams — the Sharks tonight, the Kings tomorrow, and the Ducks on Friday. It could still get worse before it gets better.

For the Sharks, who were led Tuesday by Logan Couture‘s four-point performance and Joe Pavelski‘s first goal of the season, they end their five-game home stand on a positive note after losing three of the previous four games.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Wayne Simmonds leaves Flyers game for ‘precautionary reasons’ with lower-body issue

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The Philadelphia Flyers earned a 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, thanks to a four-goal outburst in the second period.

And Philly forward Wayne Simmonds earned a decision over Micheal Haley in a quick fight during that middle frame, too.

While the Flyers got the win, the news wasn’t all good with respect to Simmonds, however, as he was removed from the game for precautionary reasons because of a lower-body issue, the team announced.

Beyond that, the Flyers said they will know more about his status by either tomorrow or Thursday. That puts a bit of a damper on the win.

Not only is the 29-year-old Simmonds one of the toughest players in the league, unafraid to drop the gloves or throw big hits from time to time, but he’s an important part of Philadelphia’s offensive attack, as well. A productive member of the power play, he’s flirted with the 30-goal mark on three occasions while in Philly and reached that mark in each of the past two seasons.

And he’s done that on a contract that includes an annual cap hit of just under $4 million.

Simmonds was also off to a strong start in 2017-18 with five goals and seven points in six games.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Rangers’ losing streak continues with OT defeat vs. Penguins

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The New York Rangers needed a win.

Their slow start is among the surprises early this season, as the Rangers have now lost four in a row with only one win to their record through seven games so far. They’ve had trouble scoring. Mistakes at inopportune moments have been costly.

Facing the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, the Rangers had a brutal start and a brutal finish in a 5-4 overtime loss to their Metropolitan Division foes.

Phil Kessel scored just 43 seconds into the game, utilizing that dangerous wrist shot off the rush to beat Henrik Lundqvist top corner. By the end of one period, it was 2-0 Pittsburgh.

Despite a second-period comeback, with three goals in under three minutes, and taking the lead in the third period, the Rangers couldn’t hang on and the Penguins won in overtime.

Sidney Crosby scored a crafty tying goal with only 56 seconds remaining in regulation, waiting for the Rangers defender to touch the puck negating what would’ve likely been called a hand pass on Pittsburgh before firing a no-look backhander toward the net from behind the red line. The puck deflected in off Lundqvist, helping send this one to overtime.

Evgeni Malkin capped off a four-point night with the overtime winner.

“Right now it’s a little bit challenging as far as putting a whole game together for us,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault following the game. “But this group is very accountable … and I’m very confident that if we keep doing a lot of the things we’re doing right now, we’re going to be on the right track.”

A trio of Rangers recorded their first goals of the season. That included David Desharnais, Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich, although the latter played less than 10 minutes on Tuesday, despite nearly four minutes in power play time, and of course the goal.

The Rangers host the New York Islanders on Thursday. Another loss, and one has to wonder how hot the seat may be getting under Vigneault.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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