Centre of Depth

Crosby-Malkin-Staal

Some NHL teams don’t have a legitimate number one center. Most teams don’t have two. The Pittsburgh Penguins have three.

This is one of many reasons the Penguins have been the envy of the NHL over the last few seasons. I guess several years of losing will get you the kind of highly capable centers Pittsburgh have in Evgeni Malkin (2004), Sidney Crosby (2005) and Jordan Staal (2006).

And yet, in what probably feels like justice to 29 other GM’s around the NHL who can’t stand this lethal 1-2-3 punch, the Penguins have rarely enjoyed all three centers healthy and in the line up at the same time over the last few seasons.

Even without one of the big three, the Penguins still hold an advantage over most teams on most nights at the center position. Especially if one of those centers happens to be Sidney Crosby, the best hockey player in the game today. Sid has been very healthy over the last two seasons since suffering that high ankle sprain in 2008 and has (nearly) single-handedly carried the Penguins throughout Malkin’s injury struggles last year and Staal’s this year.

As luck would have it, Crosby’s concussion issues began in the same game – the 2011 Winter Classic against the Washington Capitals – that saw star center Jordan Staal return to the line up. If there’s ever a good time for your star player to go down, it’s when another one returns. It’s a shining example of the depth the Penguins have at center (or sickening, depending on which side of the fence you sit).

It’s purely speculation on my part to assume Crosby suffered his concussion during the 2011 Winter Classic, although I’m sure many will agree the collision with David Steckel is the likely cause.

So far the Penguins are 3-2-1 and have seven of a possible 12 points without Sid the Kid. The Penguins results without Crosby aren’t bad and their three remaining games before the All-Star break – games against New Jersey, Carolina and the New York Islanders – aren’t exactly grueling either.

In the six games without Crosby, Jordan Staal appears to have regained his scoring touch with six points (all of which coming in the last three games), while Evgeni Malkin has tallied only three assists. Not exactly Crosby-like production, but so far so good for the Penguins. They seem to be surviving without 87.

But with news of Crosby’s concussion appearing more serious than originally thought, the question is can Malkin and Staal continue to carry the load for an extended period of time like Sid did while they were out? For now it appears that having any two of these three stars is enough for Pittsburgh on most nights.

Only time will tell if that can last.

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