When the Penguins traded for Brendan Morrow, Douglas Murray, Jarome Iginla and Jussi Jokinen over a 10-day span, the moves were framed as a contender improving its depth with veterans eager for a Stanley Cup run.
Instead, those four acquisitions have been forced into very important roles with Sidney Crosby, James Neal, Paul Martin and Kris Letang all missing recent games due to injury.
While the fresh quartet can’t be expected to fully cover up for the Penguins’ missing pieces, Morrow, Murray, Iginla and Jokinen have amplified their influence in the past two games, helping Pittsburgh lock up its first division championship since 2008.
Turn the clock back to Friday, when the Penguins outmuscled the desperate Rangers for a 2-1 shootout win. Jokinen, definitely the most unheralded of the newbies, scored Pittsburgh’s only regulation goal before also cashing in on a slick shootout move.
Combined with an otherworldly performance by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Jokinen carried the day in his first game as a Penguin. His faceoff prowess – Jokinen has won 19 of 27 since arriving – is a needed boost for a Pittsburgh team without its most reliable draw-taker in Crosby.
Friday was also a fine evening for Murray, a tank of a defenseman who’s built for grueling games in which every position must be fought for. When he flattened New York’s 6-foot-7 forward Brian Boyle with a check just slightly after the whistle, Consol Energy Center roared its appreciation for a player that makes the Penguins’ zone a more difficult place to inhabit.
As for the two former team captains that arrived with much fanfare, Iginla and Morrow have found their transitions to be more gradual. Nevertheless, both are warming to the task in their own ways, with Tuesday’s division-clinching victory over Carolina showcasing their increasing comfort levels.
Morrow’s contribution against the Hurricanes was more obvious, which runs counter to his grind-it-out style of play. Still, the 34-year-old has scored 244 NHL goals, making his dazzling first Penguins score a reminder that Morrow might have a few more in him once playoff time rolls around.
You’ll notice that Jokinen set up Morrow with a slick one-touch pass. With the reliable Pascal Dupuis skating alongside, Morrow and Jokinen possessed the puck and created regular scoring chances on Tobacco Road. Morrow and Jokinen will be likely pushed to bottom-six minutes when Neal and Crosby heal, but it’s comforting to know the Penguins have capable options should a shakeup be needed.
Also on Tuesday, Iginla got the primary assist on Evgeni Malkin’s game-winning goal, his second point in five games since orchestrating his own departure from Calgary. At age 35, Iginla isn’t the 40-goal man he once was, but he can still do damage when playing with compatible offensive talent.
Teamed with Malkin and Chris Kunitz for the first time, Iginla seemed to settle in as the triggerman on the Penguins’ first line as Tuesday night wore on. Seconds after his wrister preceded Malkin’s rebound tally, Iginla just missed on a chance from his familiar right wing. As long as he skates with guys who can get him the puck in scoring areas, his punishing shot will be well-utilized.
None of the four players added to the Penguins roster are elite. However, when put in the positions to succeed, Morrow, Murray, Iginla and Jokinen can be quite valuable as Pittsburgh guns for the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed and an extended postseason stay.