It’s not exactly a new problem, but the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lack of scoring depth reached a new low Saturday night in Dallas.
In a 3-0 loss to the surging Stars, the Penguins managed a measly 24 shots on net, with most of those launched in the second half of the game after they already trailed by three. Even more troubling, 21 of those shots occurred with Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin on the ice, further exposing the team’s shallow talent pool up front.
Part of this is out of the Penguins’ control, as Beau Bennett, Joe Vitale and Brian Gibbons are rehabbing from injuries while first-liner Pascal Dupuis won’t be seen until autumn because of a torn knee ligament. Part of the problem is this season’s lowered salary cap, a $64.3 million limit that necessitated the departure of good soldiers Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke last summer.
But while the NHL’s cap will reportedly increase to more than $70 million next season, the Pens can’t afford to sit back and let a prime year for its stars pass without augmentation for a presumed playoff run. For Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero, it’s a question of when, not if.
The March 5 trade deadline may be about five weeks away, but because of the upcoming Olympic break, the Penguins have just nine games to go before their roster gets locked in. Shero will spend part of February in Russia pursuant to his USA Hockey duties, but we can presume he will use the NHL hiatus to chat up his fellow GMs regarding the nature of the market.
Shero could make a deal before the break in an attempt to maximize the assimilation period for any acquisitions, but the Penguins will have 21 regular-season games remaining after the deadline. There will still be plenty of time for Dan Bylsma and his staff to calibrate no matter when changes are made.
There have been reports that the Pens will look to add a long-term piece (or pieces) as opposed to the “rental” route this year. That’s easier said than done, as it usually takes more effort to orchestrate a true “hockey trade” than a salary dump.
It also helps that the Penguins maintain a double-digit lead in the Metropolitan Division and are seven points ahead of Boston for first in the Eastern Conference. Fortunately for Shero, while he has fewer than 10 games to assess his team’s needs, time is still on his side.
Tonight’s Game: Penguins (36-14-2, 74 points – 1st Metropolitan) vs. Sabres (14-29-7, 35 points – 8th Atlantic) at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center. Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Eastern, with Root Sports Pittsburgh (regional) and NBC Sports Network (national) sharing the TV broadcast. 105.9 The X has the radio feed, with Mike Lange and Phil Bourque on the call.
Bylsma has confirmed that Gibbons, who was activated from the disabled list this weekend, will be in uniform tonight. The rookie has missed the past five games with a lower-body injury sustained Jan. 11 at Calgary. Gibbons took line rushes on Crosby’s right wing Monday morning, the same spot he manned before he got hurt.
It’ll be Marc-Andre Fleury vs. United States Olympian Ryan Miller in net tonight. Judging from the morning skate, Deryk Engelland will be back at right wing on the fourth line, while Chuck Kobasew will be in the press box.
The Penguins are 14-1 in their past 15 home games, and 10-4 overall against the Sabres since February 2010. Buffalo still has the worst offense in the NHL (1.8 goals per game), but it’s scored three or more in six straight games. The Sabres (3-4-3 in 2014) ended Columbus’ eight-game win streak Saturday night.