CHICAGO – The Penguins are up against it right now.
Players, probably correctly, talked Saturday night about not reading too much into a one-side loss to the Blackhawks because, as Craig Adams said, “that wasn’t a regular hockey game.”
Indeed, that should be the last time this season the Penguins play a road game in a snowstorm.
Still, as March begins, it is clearly these are not the Penguins of early January, when a healthier group appeared to be handling the loss of right winger Pascal Dupuis.
A lot will be made going forward – though, why more has not been made lately is puzzling – of the Penguins being without their two top defensemen in Kris Letang and Paul Martin.
That makes sense, because the Penguins are so incredibly reliant on those players.
The Penguins are at their best, even with the adoption of a left-wing lock defensive system, when their skilled forwards receive quick, sharp passes from defensemen. That action is what fuels the puck possession the Penguins need to have to win games – especially against top teams such as Chicago or, later this week, Anaheim and San Jose.
Letang and Martin are two of the better puck-moving defensemen in the NHL, certainly the best for the Penguins. They anchor separate defense pairings because coach Dan Bylsma wants one of them on the ice when centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are out.
If Crosby and Malkin – and their respective wingers – spend most of a game chasing the puck, the Penguins are doomed.
That is what is happening right now without Letang and Martin.
The Penguins did win a lot earlier this season when hockey gods attempted to devastate this club by forcing as many as five AHL players into the lineup annually over the course of a month.
That was never going to last, though.
This season was absolutely the one the Penguins could ill afford an injury run like the one they’re having because the lower salary cap has destroyed their depth. They arrived at camp with questions about the third line.
Well, those questions remain, and the injuries to Dupuis and Letang and Martin have negatively impacted the top line and the entire defense corps.
The Penguins, admirably, raced to the top of the Eastern Conference before the Olympics because of a combination of dependably sound goaltending, high-end offensive talent coming up big and the coaching staff masterfully getting the most out of intriguing AHL prospects that management knew were not ready for consistent NHL production.
It is completely unrealistic to think that combination can work all season.
Reality is smacking the Penguins right now.
>> While walking back to our hotel from the Windy City, fellow Trib Total Media reporter Chris Adamski and I marveled that the Penguins-Blackhawks game at Solider Field was pulled off. The snow under our feet was wet, heavy and slippery, and the wind left our faces feeling raw.
Conditions were brutal for playing a hockey game on Saturday night.
Still, several NHL officials said that the conditions were much worse at Michigan Stadium for the Winter Classic between Detroit and Toronto.
That Classic and this final Stadium Series game went off mostly without a hitch, which is as close to amazing as you will see in hockey.
I’ve covered three outdoor games. Two were played in cold, windy and snowy conditions, the other during a constant rain at night.
Last month, I along with others, watched on TV as an outdoor game was staged in Los Angeles.
Think about that.
An outdoor ice hockey game in Los Angeles!
It appears we are completely taking for granted how unheard of the outdoor game concept was only six years ago.
Now, they’re being staged in blizzard conditions and near beaches.
Outdoor hockey isn’t just one of the best ideas the NHL has ever had; it is also the one of the league’s most impressive accomplishments because the games outside have all actually happened.
Back in 2007, a few months before the original Winter Classic, there was doubt within the hockey community that an outdoor game could even be played.
>> LINKS N’AT
The Penguins did not find their game as the Windy City lived up to its moniker: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5655854-74/penguins-blackhawks-game#axzz2ud8U59IJ
Ray Shero wants Ryan Kesler: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5686336-74/penguins-kesler-sources#axzz2ud8U59IJ
Gary Bettman took time to speak with Trib Total Media on a variety of subjects: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5684472-74/game-bettman-cap#axzz2ud8U59IJ
Chris Adamski braved Chicago’s weather to find Penguins fans ready for some frozen fun: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5684455-74/penguins-game-fans
Also from Adamski, the Penguins notes: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5655856-74/penguins-saturday-game#axzz2ud8U59IJ
Jonathan Bombulie’s weekly AHL report: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5655293-74/payerl-games-goals#axzz2ud8U59IJ
Pens-Hawks photos from our Chaz Palla: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/
>> Josh Yohe is set to have himself a big Sunday. Join me in welcoming, hopefully at some point on this day, a healthy addition to his family.
Be EXCELLENT to each other,