Tag:Dan Bylsma
Posted on: February 12, 2012 12:18 pm
Edited on: February 12, 2012 12:21 pm
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The value of Jordan Staal



By: Adam Gretz


The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to get one of their injured centers back this weekend, and while Jordan Staal's absence didn't have quite the same impact, intrigue or uncertainty of his teammate, Sidney Crosby, that doesn't take away from how important he has been on the ice for Pittsburgh, or how important his return to the lineup will be going forward.

Over the past month, since Staal was injured in a game against the New York Rangers during a colission with Mike Rupp, the Penguins were getting by with Evgeni Malkin carrying the load at center, and what was basically a patchwork group at the position behind him, a situation that has become all too familiar for a team that is built on the strength of its centers (when all are healthy) over the past two seasons.

That resulted in Malkin seeing a lot of assignments against other teams top lines and, honestly, required his line (along with James Neal and Chris Kunitz) to provide almost all of the offense. With Staal back, the Penguins once again have the player in their lineup that does a lot of their heavy lifting when it comes to drawing the toughest assignments, which can possibly help to free up Malkin's line even more and take some of the pressure off of them.

"Especially on the road there have been situations where it's been head-to-head for Malkin with the other teams top line," said coach Dan Bylsma before Pittsburgh's 8-5 run-and-gun win against Winnipeg on Saturday.

"Now with Jordan in the mix and his line, especially with [Matt] Cooke and [Pascal] Dupuis getting the opportunity to match up against other teams top lines, for the most part, it will free up Evgeni a little bit. Also, I think it's a tough matchup against Jordan as well, which can lead to situations where it might be advantageous to get Malkin's line up against different pairings and different people. Jordan brings a lot in that regard, he's going to be bring a big responsibility against the other teams top line, and it should be helpful in the match-ups and situations Geno's line can find themselves in."

And that's the beauty of Staal's role.

If you look back at his career with the Penguins, especially over the past three years, he's always been the center -- even when you include Crosby and Malkin -- that seems to draw the toughest matchups (using Behindthenet's Corsi Relative Quality of Competition), and this season has been no different. Even though he typically draws the most difficult assignments on the team, his line usually ends up coming away with the upper hand, not only in terms of goals for/goals against, but also in terms of controlling possession of the puck and keeping it in the offensive zone.

Looking at something as simple as On-Ice Corsi, which is simply the total shot-differential (goals, saves, missed shots, blocked shots during 5-on-5 play -- it's basically a way of measuring puck possession and offensive zone time) when a player is on the ice, Staal entered the weekend third in the NHL among players that have played at least 30 games this season, and he's been a positive player in that area in each of the past four seasons. And he's been able to do that while playing against top competition and starting a large percentage of his shifts in the defensive end of the rink.

In other words: When Staal's line is on the ice, the Penguins are keeping the other teams best players bottled up in their own end, which is a pretty good way of making sure they're being shut down. That's an extremely valuable role, and it's one that Staal has excelled in. He's become a big-time player, even though he's never been one that puts up huge numbers offensively.

His return to the lineup gives the Penguins another top-center to pair up with their MVP contender (Malkin) which could make them one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference come playoff time, even if they don't get Crosby back anytime soon.

(Corsi and Quality of Competition data via BehindTheNet.ca)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 10, 2012 1:30 pm
Edited on: February 10, 2012 3:43 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Jets look to carry 'mo' to Pitt

Winnipeg is only three points behind Florida and Washington in the Southeast. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Weekend Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

WASHINGTON -- Here we are in mid-February and the Winnipeg Jets are still lingering right there in the playoff picture, just outside the East's top eight (even closer to the Southeast Division lead). That's how crucial Thursday night's Houdini act was in Washington, to take two points from a game that was seemingly lost.

The next question becomes how they can follow that up?

Winnipeg finishes off a travel-heavy stretch this Saturday in Pittsburgh against the Penguins. It will be their eight road game in their last nine overall, a crucial stretch in their season that many thought would bury their playoff hopes. I admit, myself included.

Instead, they were given a golden opportunity with a lucky bounce to pick up some serious steam for a playoff push.

"We have a big game in Pittsburgh," forward Bryan Little said on Thursday after the 3-2 win in D.C. "If we get a couple points there it would be a great road trip for us."

And it would bring them some strong momentum into a home-heavy stretch they are about to hit.

"We've been playing well at home all season, so we'd be really pumped with that," Little said.

That's why the game against the Pens is so big. It would more or less signify that the win in Washington was a springboard to launch them into their homestand. But any sort of momentum gained from it is for the most part lost with a flat showing in the 'Burgh.

"We've won two in a row now," said Evander Kane, who has played two games since returning from a concussion. "We have to be able to put together strings together and long winning streaks because that's how you're going to make the playoffs."

That's the goal, obviously, bring the playoffs back to the 'Peg. Maybe the White out too. So what better way to head into a stretch where nine of their next 10 are at the friendly confines of MTS Centre than a win in Pittsburgh?

They'll be taking on a Penguins team that will get a lift courtesy of a returning player. No, not Sidney Crosby, but instead Jordan Staal. Coach Dan Bylsma announced on Friday that Staal will be back in the lineup after dealing with a nagging knee issue.

So it's up to you Jets, make that win in Washington really count.

What the Devil has gotten into them?

The New Jersey Devils aren't just hanging around in the playoff race like the Jets, they are climbing into the conversation for home-ice advantage in the first round.

In a rarity, the Devils actually lost in a shootout on Thursday night to the St. Louis Blues. It brought an end to New Jersey's five-game winning streak but extended their points streak to eight games.

The catalyst in the run has been not only the stellar play of Ilya Kovalchuk, but Zach Parise's outburst. With his name being talked about as a possibility in trade discussions, Parise has only shown why teams would love to have him -- including the Devils, of course. In the last six games he has six goals and two assists. Not too shabby.

In case you haven't checked the standings in a while -- here's our nifty Playoff Race -- the Devils have jumped over the Penguins for the time being in the Atlantic Division race and are just three points behind the Flyers.

You have to like the odds of their points streak being extended to nine on Saturday. That's when they'll play the Florida Panthers at the Rock, the fourth and final meeting between coach Peter DeBoer and his former team from Florida. Seeing how the Devils have looked strong in winning two of the three from the Cats and would have taken the other if not for a complete meltdown in the third period, it doesn't seem like this is the time they will be stopped in their tracks.

Add in Florida being 1-6-4 in its last 11 road games and, well, you can see where this is going.

Chicago blues

It's high time the Blackhawks find themselves again. They are mired in a stretch that could be too difficult to overcome when it comes time for seeding in the Western Conference, especially if it continues.

In the midst of a nine-game road trip that still has five more stops to go, the Blackhawks are reeling. They've lost six in a row, picking up a point in only one of those losses. You wouldn't figure the next four games being in San Jose, at Phoenix, in Nashville then at the Rangers will make it much easier, particularly with the Sharks and Coyotes coming back-to-back this weekend.

It seems preposterous, but a couple more games and all of a sudden the Blackhawks are going to find themselves in a serious fight for a playoff spot period, let alone the seeding.

As big as the one Friday night in San Jose is, that game in Phoenix will be particularly big as the Coyotes have made a little surge in recent days and have climbed into the eighth spot in the West. It could pull Phoenix to within three points of Chicago if their skid continues.

Fifth time's the charm?

The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers will have their fifth of six meetings this season on Saturday in Philly, a little matinee.

Despite it being their fifth game of the series, it's actually the first that will be played at Wells Fargo Center. So maybe that will be what the Flyers need to get off the Rangers schneid. They have been on the losing end of all four games so far.

There likely won't be any Ilya Bryzgalov in net again, though. And that's not because he's being benched, enjoying some nice tea in his thermos. Instead, he's enjoying some tea in his thermos because he's ill and, you know, people suggest you drink tea.

Obviously it hasn't mattered who has been in net for the Flyers this season, they haven't been able to figure out the Rangers yet. A game like Saturday's is huge for confidence, if not the standings.

Oh, and if you like fights, this might be your game. Last weekend's matchup broke out into an MMA show.

Mr. 1,000

It feels like we've had a lot of players hitting the 1,000 game milestone this season, doesn't it? On Thursday night Chris Neil of Ottawa celebrated entering four-digit territory. On Friday night it will be Tomas Holmstrom's turn.

The longtime Swedish Red Wings forward has obviously seen some good times in Detroit throughout his career. That tends to happen if you stay in a Wings uniform long enough. He'll be honored for that when the Ducks visit the Joe.

On the ice, this is actually quite the matchup. The Wings are still riding this ridiculous home winning streak, up to 18 games now. The Ducks, meanwhile, have come flying up from the basement and are now within eight points of a playoff spot in the West, still a long way to go but better than before. They are 11-2-2 in the last 15.

So don't be surprised if this is the team that's finally able to upset Detroit in Detroit and spoil the fun of Holmstrom's night.

We're going streaking!

Here is a look at the streaks -- both good and bad -- heading into the weekend.

Montreal Canadiens: Yes, that's right, the Habs are on a winning streak. They take a three-game run to their rivals in Toronto.

Vancouver Canucks: Remember when they were behind Minnesota in the Northwest? Me neither. They have a 15-point lead and carry a three-game win streak into Calgary on Saturday.

Coyotes: I said they've been on a run lately and that means they have a league-high four straight wins. Only Chicago awaits this weekend.

Blackhawks: See entry above: Six straight losses. Will they keep counting? Trips to San Jose and Phoenix on the docket.

Minnesota Wild: They have slipped out of the top eight in the West now having lost three consecutive games. A visit from Columbus is next on Saturday.

Ryan Miller: OK, I never put players on here, but Miller deserves a spot. The Sabres goalie has been much-maligned but he has turned a corner of late. He's on the run of his career. No, really. From Mike Harrington at the Buffalo News.

"Ryan Miller's 0.95 GAA and .969 save percentage over the last five games are the best in his career for any five-game stretch."

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 6, 2012 1:57 pm
Edited on: February 6, 2012 9:43 pm
 

Still no timetable for Crosby return



By: Adam Gretz


There was some buzz coming out of Montreal on Monday morning as Penguins captain Sidney Crosby joined his teammates for practice at the Bell Centre ahead of Tuesday's game with the Canadiens. And while it appears that he's inching closer to returning to the lineup, he's still not quite there yet and there remains no timetable for his return.

Crosby said after the session, via Sam Kasan of the Penguins, that he will continue to skate by himself when the team returns to Pittsburgh this week and that he is still not yet symptom free, and that once he is, he will return.

So in other words: there's not much new regarding his status, other than that he practiced with the team as opposed to skating on his own.

In other injury news for the Penguins, head coach Dan Bylsma said that center Jordan Staal could return to the lineup within the next five to 10 days, which would be a huge addition to their lineup. He plays some of the toughest minutes on the team on a nightly basis, and was also having one of the best goal-scoring seasons of his career prior to his knee injury against the New York Rangers last month. 

Forward Tyler Kennedy, who was injured in the closing minutes of Sunday's 5-2 loss in New Jersey, is also returning to Pittsburgh to have his lower body injury re-evaluated.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 22, 2012 9:25 am
Edited on: January 22, 2012 7:20 pm
 

The Penguins rediscovered their winning ways

BylsmaBy: Adam Gretz

A little over a week ago the sky appeared to be falling when it came to the Pittsburgh Penguins and their season.

The team was riding a six-game losing streak, they were on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture for the time being and there was even a discussion as to whether or not some players on the team held a meeting regarding a potential temporary captain in the absence of Sidney Crosby. That, of course, was followed by the entire team hitting the ice for practice by all wearing C's on their jerseys on the same day they started a five-game winning streak, which was extended to six games with a 4-3 overtime win against Washington on Sunday afternoon. 

It would certainly be a nice narrative to suggest that show of solidarity and team-bonding (if you want to call it that) was the springboard for their return to the win-column, but it's actually a lot more reasonable than that: the team simply wasn't as bad as it looked during that stretch, and they got back to doing a lot of the things that originally made them successful.

That six-game losing streak was the perfect storm where slumps, uncharacteristically sloppy play and bad luck all met at the same point in the season. Every mistake they made ended up in the back of their net, and no matter how many chances they generated or shots they fired on goal at the other end, they weren't getting the same fortune and couldn't seem to buy a goal.

Even though offense was difficult to come by, with the team scoring just six goals over the six games, they were still out-shooting their opponents by a significant margin in every game, indicating that they were still controlling puck possession, an area that has been one of the team's strengths ever since Dan Bylsma took over behind the bench during the 2008-09 season. It was also perhaps a sign that, eventually, they would be able to break through.

During that streak the Penguins, as a team, were shooting around 3 percent, while their opponents were pumping in goals at a 14 percent rate, two percentages that were in no way going to continue for an extended period of time (keep in mind, the league average is typically around 9 percent in a given season, as it is once again this year, and the best and worst teams usually shoot in the neighborhood of 10 and 7 percent respectively). While they may have been lacking a large number of true "scoring chances," and a lot of the shots may have been coming from the perimeter, the more time you spend in the offensive zone the more chances there are for a defensive breakdown by the other team, the more opportunities you're going to get for a second or third chance shot, and, really, the more bad things that can happen for the team trying to defend as they get worn down trying to defend, especially against an aggressive forechecking team.

The whole thing was actually pretty reminiscent of the losing streak the Detroit Red Wings had earlier in the season (also a six-game drought, driven largely by a lack of goal-scoring), and one that was followed by them winning 14 of the following 18 games.

Before the Penguins' 5-4 come-from-behind win against Montreal on Friday night, I asked Bylsma if he felt that his team was on the verge of putting together a run of games like this given the way they had previously been playing, and some of the things they were able to do, even in defeat, and he seemed to think it all started to turn around with their 1-0 loss in Washington back on Jan. 11.

"When two losses turns into four and six, you start to feel a little bit like when the next one is going to come," said Bylsma. "We liked a lot of the things we did. We maybe didn't react well to situations in the games, like other teams scoring, making a mistake, maybe a referee call -- we weren't reacting well, and it was causing us to find ways to lose, or find a way to let teams back into games.

"I think it started with the Washington game. Our attitude changed, our mindset changed, and in addition to playing well and having possession of the puck,  we were playing a little bit more with an edge, a little bit more of an attitude and the way we need to play the game."

It also probably wasn't a coincidence that their worst stretch of the season also took place during the exact same time that Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, their two best players this season, hit their first extended slumps of the season. Both have since gone on new scoring streaks, especially Malkin as he continues to shine in the absence of Crosby, and has been one of the best offensive players in the league this season. But Bylsma was also quick to point out that it's not just about his point production, and that he might be playing the best even-strength hockey of his career.

"It's easy to look at the highlights and say he's playing amazing," said Bylsma. "But it's much harder to look at his whole game. How he's playing without the puck, how he's playing defensively, the number of minutes he's playing, who he's playing against, how he and his line with Chris Kunitz and James Neal have been able to play a real dominating game, and not just the fact they're scoring points and getting goals, but maybe his best hockey at 5-on-5 that he's played in his career. And he's been doing it for a long stretch of hockey right now and leading our team."

Among the numerous injuries the Penguins have dealt with at various times this season, one of the most recent was to center Jordan Staal, the player that almost always plays some of the toughest minutes on the team and handles the toughest assignments. In his absence Malkin, one of the few natural centers remaining in the lineup, has taken on more of those responsibilites in recent weeks, playing more minutes and getting more shifts against other teams top lines.

They still have a franchise center, and now that Kris Letang, their best all-around defenseman, is back in the lineup, that six-game losing streak might be starting to become a thing of the past.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 11, 2012 6:01 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2012 6:08 pm
 

Crosby to join Pens on trip; still no timetable

By: Adam Gretz

It's been extremely quiet on the Sidney Crosby front recently, and as the Penguins continue to struggle to score goals and win games in the face of mounting injuries, that silence was starting to lead to a lot of questions regarding his status.

The Penguins announced on Wednesday evening, just two hours before the start of their game with the Capitals, that Crosby will be joining the team in Washington and will accompany them on their road trip to Florida. Even though he is scheduled to skate on his own, head coach Dan Bylsma said that there is still no timetable for his return.

Crosby hasn't played for the Penguins since December 5 against the Boston Bruins, a game that saw him take several hits, including a center ice collision with teammate Chris Kunitz, as well an elbow from David Krejci.

The timing of this announcement, as well as Crosby joining the team on the road, is definitely interesting, if not totally bizarre. Following the Penguins' 5-1 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday night Bylsma was pressed on the issue (Crosby's status, as well as the status of defenseman Kris Letang, out with a concussion)

"He's still light exercise off the ice and hasn't gone to a different stage in his rehab in terms of his symptoms, said Bylsma in his post-game press conference.

"The injury they have is symptom based, you don't progress until those symptoms go away. Kris Letang is obviously on the ice and skating, he's progress and Sid is still in light exercise off the ice."

Crosby, of course, missed the second half of last season, as well as the playoffs and the first month-and-a-half of this season due to a concussion. In the eight games he played this season he scored two goals to go with 10 assists.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: January 11, 2012 3:06 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2012 1:44 am
 

Minnesota's puck possession problem

WildPucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at what might be the biggest problem with the Minnesota Wild.

By: Adam Gretz


The Minnesota Wild have a problem right now.

After beating the Phoenix Coyotes on December 10, their seventh win in a row, the Wild improved their record to 20-7-3 and owned the best point total in the NHL. They had the look of a sure-fire playoff team and one that was going to end a three-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Of course, that could still end up happening, but it's been all downhill ever since.

In the month that's followed the Wild have won just one game in regulation (a 4-3 win against Edmonton, a team that's been one of the worst in the NHL over the past 20 games), a stretch that's seen them go 2-8-3. The other win came on Tuesday night, a 5-4 shootout win against San Jose after the Wild let a two-goal lead slip away in the final four minutes of regulation. As of Wednesday, the Wild went from the top team in the Western Conference to the No. 7 spot, just three points out of the No. 9 spot, in exactly one month, and their next three games are against Chicago, St. Louis and Philadelphia, which is definitely not an easy stretch.

This recent decline should have been expected (I wasn't ready to buy their fast start earlier this season ... though, I said the same thing about the Rangers and theyr'e still winning. So there's that) and unless something changes in the second half of the season they might have a big struggle ahead of them. Why? Because they are one of the worst puck possession teams in the league, which isn't exactly a good recipe for success in the NHL.

Entering play on Wednesday the Wild were generating the third-fewest shots per game and allowing the most. They're getting outshot by an average of over five shots per game, the worst mark in the league. If this continues it's not going to be a promising development for their playoff chances.

The table below takes a look at the past 10 NHL seasons and the playoff chances for teams when out-shooting, or getting out-shot by, a certain margin over the course of the season.

Possession Matters
Shot Differential Playoff % Total Teams Stanley Cup Finalists Stanley Cup Champions
+5 (or more) 100% 20 out of 20 5 4
+4 89% 14 out of 16 5 4
+3 90% 19 out of 21 1 0
+2 64% 16 out of 25 1 0
+1 64% 24 out of 37 3 0
+ >1 70% 27 out of 38 2 1
- >1 34% 11 out of 32 0 0
-1 36% 9 out of 24 2 1
-2 25% 7 out of 27 0 0
-3 40% 10 out of 23 1 0
-4 6% 1 out of 16 0 0
-5 (or more) 4% 1 out of 23 0 0

Most teams finish somewhere between plus-one and minus-one over the course of an 82-game season. It's the teams that separate themselves from the cluster, one way or the other, that either compete for the  Stanley Cup (on the positive side) or compete for the top-overall pick in the next summer's draft (on the negative side). It should again be pointed out that Minnesota currently falls into the minus-five (or worse) category (and they are the only team as of Wednesday).

Over the past 10 seasons only one such team has been able to make the playoffs -- the 2001-02 Montreal Canadiens, a No. 8 seed that finished two points ahead of the ninth seeded Washington Capitals. If you remember, that was also the season that Jose Theodore put together one of the best season-long goaltending performances in recent memory by leading the league (by a pretty sizable margin) with a .931 save percentage, an obvious outlier in his career, and taking home the Hart Trophy as the league MVP and the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender.

When the Canadiens faced a similar deficit the following season, and Theodore's level of play regressed back to his normal career levels (a .908 save percentage -- exactly his career average -- instead of .931, a top-15 mark all-time) the Canadiens missed the playoffs and Theodore went from being the next Patrick Roy to just another in the revolving door of mediocrity in the Montreal net. He was eventually traded for David Aebischer in 2006.

Another team that stands out from the above chart, and also happens to be the one team over the past decade that won the Stanley Cup despite being outshot during the season, is the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a tale of two teams that year. They started the season with Michel Therrien behind the bench, playing a very passive, defense-first system. After reaching the Stanley Cup Finals the previous season (losing to the Detroit Red Wings) they found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture in mid-February following a humiliating loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

At that point in the season the Penguins were 27-25-5, and were being crushed in terms of puck possession, getting out-shot by nearly four shots per game. It was then that they made drastic changes to the entire team. Pretty much everything about it, from the coach, to the system, to the make-up of the roster. Therrien was replaced behind the bench by Dan Bylsma, brought up from their American Hockey League team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and the team instantly started playing a more aggressive brand of hockey with an emphasis on getting to the offensive zone as quickly and often as possible. Along with that, general manager Ray Shero completely overhauled the team's top line by trading for forwards Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin to improve the offense, and added some additional toughness by picking up Craig Adams on waivers.

Almost instantly they completely flipped the script on their season, and went from being a team that was getting out-shot by nearly four shots per night with a .500 record, to a team that was now out-shooting its opponents by four shots and finishing with an 18-3-4 record. That level of play continued through the playoffs, all the way through their Stanley Cup Finals rematch with Detroit, ending with a Pittsburgh win in seven games.

The ability to create shots (and prevent shots) is a reflection of skill, talent and strategy (coaching), which is why the teams that are the best at controlling the puck are the ones that tend to win the most games and have the best chance at winning it all. Looking at the Wild and there just doesn't seem to be enough players to create chances offensively, and the defense isn't anything great. They've been relying on their two outstanding goalies, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, and while they've had excellent seasons they can only mask Minnesota's flaws for so long.

Can they still make the playoffs this season? Sure, anything can happen. Maybe they continue to get a '01-02 Jose Theodore-type season from their goaltenders (because at this rate that's probably what they're going to need), or maybe something drastically changes in the second half of the season that allows the team to generate more offense and spend more time in the other end of the ice. But if things keep going like they have been, the odds could be stacked against them.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 10, 2012 11:39 am
Edited on: January 10, 2012 11:41 am
 

James Neal's foot not broken, will play Tuesday

By Brian Stubits

It was just Sunday that the Pittsburgh Penguins announced Jordan Staal would be out 4-6 weeks and James Neal had a broken foot that would keep him out of action for a while.

Two days later, it looks as though Neal isn't even going to miss a game. Don't you just love hockey players?

With the Penguins having a long list already of guys injured, Neal was a surprise in the team's morning skate on Tuesday in preparation for Pittsburgh's game against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night. The surprises continued after the skate when Neal revealed he's not going to miss any time.

"I'm good to go. I'm ready to play tonight," Neal said Tuesday. "After an MRI yesterday, it can’t get any worse. So I’m good to play on it."

A big reason why was a misdiagnosis the first time around. The Penguins were off a little with the broken foot announcement.

"The first test on Neal showed a fracture," coach Dan Bylsma said. "MRI showed pre-existing condition. He has a bone bruise but can play."

Well there's a surprise. It will be very interesting to watch how Neal skates and how many minutes he plays tonight against the Sens.

You have to wonder if aiding in this decision is the Penguins' struggles at the moment, both with injury and on the ice. They have lost four in a row and are very dinged up with Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Staal injured.

If he's able to play near 100 percent than obviously it's a big lift to the Penguins. Neal has been a very good goal scorer for the Pens this season, particularly on the power play where he has netted 10 of his 21 tallies.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 8, 2012 1:23 pm
 

Pens injuries continue: Staal, Neal to miss time

By Brian Stubits

The Pittsburgh Penguins have faced plenty of injury adversity in the past two seasons. But this might take the cake.

The Penguins obviously are already down their best player in Sidney Crosby for an indefinite amount of time and have been minus Kris Letang, then they announced on Sunday that Jordan Staal is going to be out 4-6 weeks and James Neal has a broken foot with no timetable yet. That hurts, literally and figuratively.

Making it worse, Craig Adams might have suffered a knee injury in Sunday's practice. When it rains, it pours.

I think there are a few hands reaching for that panic button in Pittsburgh right about now. The Penguins have lost four games in a row, they are currently eighth place in the Eastern Conference and are going to be missing the majority of their play-makers. Now they need to invest in a plastic bubble to put Evgeni Malkin in.

As I said, this is nothing new for the Penguins. They still made the playoffs as a four seed last year when they didn't have Crosby, Malkin and Staal for good portions of the season. It was pretty amazing how well they overcame those injuries on the team. So clearly this isn't a crippling blow to their season. But it just made it a lot more interesting. Or scary if you're a Pens fan.

Unlike last year, the Penguins are actually going into this stretch in eighth place. They don't have the cushion they did last season. Plus, the Atlantic Division is considerably tougher this season, what with the Rangers stepping up their game and the New Jersey Devils playing so well. I think there's a little more competition in the East this year and it's going to ask a lot of them to keep their spot in the playoff mix through the second half of the season.

The Penguins aren't going to be buried as long as Marc-Andre Fleury is still in play. With the scorers dropping like flies, Flower will be counted on even more.

If the Penguins are able to make the playoffs again in a good position, Dan Bylsma might be up for the Jack Adams Award again this season. There are injuries then there are what the Penguins have gone through the last two seasons.

When they were depleted last year, GM Ray Shero went out and got James Neal from the Stars. He'll likely get on the phone again this week and try and get some help.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com