Pittsburgh will be undermanned in the first of two games that could decide its playoff fate.
On Friday, head coach Mike Johnston announced that injured d-man Derrick Pouliot would miss tonight’s game, meaning the Pens will ice just five blueliners when they host the Isles at Consol.
A rash of poor health and cap constraints have left Pittsburgh in this position. Olli Maatta, Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff are out with various ailments and, as a result, journeyman Taylor Chorney was recently brought up from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton because his (relatively low) cap hit fit within the financial parameters of a recall.
The Pens are asking a lot of Chorney, 27. He’s played almost exclusively in the AHL over the last three seasons and, since appearing in 42 games in his rookie campaign, has skated in just 22 NHL contests.
So the Pens will play tonight with a blueline comprised of Chorney, Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi, Ian Cole and Ben Lovejoy. It’s the same five-man unit that struggled in Tuesday’s loss to Ottawa after Pouliot exited with his injury; Martin played over 29 minutes, Scuderi over 25 while Cole and Lovejoy were both over 21 (Chorney, playing in just his fifth game of the season, played 13:34.)
The Penguins blew a 3-0 lead against the Sens, eventually losing 4-3 in OT. That said, Pittsburgh still controls its own destiny for the playoffs — if they beat the Isles and Sabres, they’re in (and could pass New York for third in the Metropolitan Division.)
Penguins fans got some promising news today from coach Mike Johnston, who suggested injured defensemen Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff could be back for the playoffs.
There are still issues with this team, like forward depth. But as we discuss, a healthier blue line would sure help:
The panic level is high for the Pittsburgh Penguins right now, but there’s a reason to look on the bright side beyond hoping for improved health.
Simply put, the Penguins’ have experienced ridiculously poor puck luck since things really went off the rails starting on March 14. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Jason Mackey did some number-crunching to see that their shooting percentage is a pitiful 4.5 during that span, easily the worst in the league. Their average over the entire season is 8.6, so that’s a huge drop-off when you consider how many pucks go on net each game.
(Sunday’s unsettling loss to the Philadelphia Flyers is one of the best examples; they only managed to score against Steve Mason one time despite firing 47 shots on goal. That’s a shooting percentage of a little more than two.)
Here are Mackey’s tweets on the subject:
Injuries play into this too, of course, as Mackey also points out that the Penguins’ tough run lately:
Some might roll their eyes at this and consider it an exercise in excuse-making.
The more interesting consideration, however, is to imagine how dangerous Pittsburgh could be if the Penguins merely get a fair number of bounces and a decent bill of health in a playoff series … assuming, of course, that they can make it.
The good news health-wise is that Evgeni Malkin looked spry in his Sunday return, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out that Kris Letang may only begin working out on an exercise bike this week, so the health part of that equation seems to be a work in progress.
Still, as much as this Penguins team is struggling, they may be a tougher out than their 3-8-1 record since March 14 may indicate.
Mike Johnston focuses on positives
When they got a bounce