Saturday, February 5, 2011

Well F---, now what?


Pittsburgh has done one heck of a job the last few weeks in the absences of stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. One reason why that might be is because the other players knew that eventually, at least one and probably both those guys would return at some point.

On the heels of head coach Dan Byslma's announcement Saturday that Malkin suffered a torn ACL and MCL in an innocent and almost freak collision with Tyler Myers in Friday's game, the sentiment might now be: "Well f---, now what?"

Malkin is likely out for the season and apart from the big blow to the on-ice product - despite the Penguins' recent successes, they need Malkin - there's also likely to be a significant hit to morale. Now the other players know Malkin won't be back. They can't just "hold the fort" while he's out.

Now they're the ones who have to storm the trenches. And I'm not sure if they'll have the firepower to do it, especially with Crosby still on the casualty list and not likely to provide an imminent rescue any time soon.

(OK, how many other war metaphors can I fit in here?)

Maybe Pittsburgh will survive until reinforcements arrive. (There's another one! Two if you want to include "survive" but that's a stretch.) The team has adjusted to something akin to New Jersey's trap system, looking to play low-scoring games with opponents. It's proven moderately effective with a five-game winning streak and eight wins in the last nine games.

In the playoffs, defense and strong goaltending tend to win out. Ask Montreal, ask Washington. Marc-Andre Fleury has been arguably the best - OK, second best to Tim Thomas - goalie in the last three months. Fleury was one reason why last season ended prematurely for the Penguins and he'll need to continue his excellent run of play.

Still, on a team that's already top-heavy in pure offensive talent, losing Malkin will not be easy to cope with long-term.

The mood of the locker room will be interesting to see over the next few days as the team continues to get injured down the middle. One possible benefit: the almost-great Dustin Jeffrey will continue to get prime ice time.

With Crosby, Malkin (three ailments), Jordan Staal, Mark Letestu and Maurkice Pouncey of the Steelers, it's tough being a center in Pittsburgh these days. I fear for Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

Let's go Bucs.

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