In Current State, Pittsburgh Penguins Should Be Enjoyed, Not Evaluated


Dec 20, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman

Derrick Pouliot

celebrates after scoring a goal against the Florida Panthers during the first period of an NHL hockey game at Consol Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports

The way the Pittsburgh Penguins have been playing with so much of their optimal lineup out of action is impressive.

Monday night added another praiseworthy result to their list, as the Pens rallied from 3-1 down with five minutes remaining to earn a point against the tenacious Panthers in Florida.

Despite missing Steve Downie, Brandon Sutter and Thomas Greiss because of unexpected mumps tests – in addition to the injured-reserve platoon of Paul Martin, Olli Maatta, Christian Ehrhoff, Robert Bortuzzo, Beau Bennett, Craig Adams and Pascal Dupuis – the Penguins (22-6-5, 49 points) once again moved up the standings.

Entering Tuesday night’s game in Tampa, the Pens are three points ahead of the Islanders for the top spot in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. They also boast the best points percentage (.742) in the entire NHL – along with the fewest regulation losses. Nearing the midway point of the season, Pittsburgh is on pace for a franchise-record 122 points.

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But what does this tell us about the team’s ultimate potential? Not a lot, probably.

We’ve seen the Penguins pull this off to varying degrees in the regular season, dating back to 2010-11 when they had to cope with the long-term losses of both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Last year was especially memorable in this regard, as almost the entire defense corps consisted of AHL call-ups during a long stretch in December.

However, while strong play in a depleted state is a credit to the organization, it likely has little correlation with how things will click when the team is closer to full strength. For a team like the Penguins that has Stanley Cup aspirations, getting ‘”A team” repetitions will be critical as the playoffs approach.

At the moment, that’s pretty much impossible.

In the meantime, we can admire the tireless work of recent additions Bryan Rust and Bobby Farnham, dream on the potential of blueline prospects Derrick Pouliot and Scott Harrington, and enjoy watching team leaders Malkin, Crosby, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury try to carry more of the load.

Ideally the Penguins can get more of their personnel back at some point soon. Until then, it’s best to just take in the hockey and not attach too much long-term significance to it.

Nothing wrong with some no-strings-attached fun.