Sometimes your team has bad injury luck, sometimes you have a few guys suspended, but at some point in every season, your team is going to find itself shorthanded. For a minor league player, this is the glorious call-up phase of the schedule where opportunity flocks like the salmon of Capistrano.

It usually takes until around Christmas to get there, and suddenly you find that guys who used to log six minutes of ice time a game are getting 16. That’s gonna be a problem if it goes on for too long.

Or at least it’s supposed to be.

For the Pittsburgh Penguins, the injury bug bit them during the first 2-3 weeks of the season where they play a whopping 10 games, the most in the league by two. As they keep winning, I can’t stop myself from thinking: is that team just really damn good?

When your fill-in guys start playing more minutes, a few things happen: for one, they’re fired up. They know it’s a big opportunity to show “hey coach, if you always use me this much, I’ll be a better player for you.”

Secondly, they actually do play better for awhile. You can’t get into a rhythm playing two minutes a period. Every time you step onto the ice it feels like you’re trying to sprint across a busy freeway. You’ve been standing on the curb for way too long.

So you have excited, motivated guys giving it their all, filling the holes and carrying your team through in the absence of stars.

But as it is in almost all walks of life, eventually people start to take things for granted. That, and nobody can stay throttle-down forever. With laziness and less preparation, mental errors start to creep in.

Also creeping in is the fact that most guys who play six minutes a game do so for a reason. When I was a rookie call-up in Bridgeport, the Isles had a rash of injuries, meaning more AHL guys were sent up. I spent a few games with better linemates and more minutes. I scored and played pretty damn well at first. But the longer I was asked to play those minutes, the more I got exposed. I was a rookie that wasn’t good enough to keep up my initial balls-to-the-wall pace.

The same things are supposed to happen in the NHL, but with Pittsburgh….they just keep winning.

Dan Bylsma is obviously a great coach, but that can only take a team so far. You can’t just plug 18 bloggers into Bylsma’s system and get it done. At some point, we have to stop and acknowledge that at 6-2-2 and without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the uber-dominant Washington Capitals might have cause to be nervous about the black and gold when they’re at full power.

The drop-off you expected to see by now is past due. Maybe their roster is really that good, and it isn’t coming. A scary thought.

The guys seeing the increased minutes have been money so far. It’s about that time where we find out if they can keep it up, or if those soft spots on the lineup card will start to be exposed soon.


Comments (6)

  1. Annnnnnnd another important piece out for 4-6 weeks – but I guess that solves the “who’s gonna sit on D” dilemma that faced them last Sat…

    I read something today that hadn’t really registered with me before about how the Pens multitude of injuries is likely partially due to how they play the game. So, perhaps the “when we finally get healthy” way of thinking is really a fallacy anyway.

    Whatever the case, Dan and his coaching cohorts sure have the boys believing in the system and playing the it to a T. Also, it’s clear now that even though the Pens have 2 bonafide superstars on their roster, the team mentality isn’t built around them.

    I couldn’t be more proud of what the guys have accomplished this season so far, and I wholeheartedly believe that they ARE that good, and that deep, and when they get “healthy” are going to be an unstoppable force.

  2. Teams the Pittsburgh Penguins have beaten this year: Calgary, Florida, Minnesota, Montreal, New Jersey, Vancouver.

    Combined records of those teams so far this year, not counting losses to the Pens: 17-17-8; without the Pens losses, it’s 17-12-7.

    They’ve also lost to some pretty crap teams as well, including Edmonton and Winnipeg. Oh, and they’ve only played two teams that made the playoffs last year, and have lost to both of them.

    So far, their schedule hasn’t been incredibly tough, and they’ve lost to the good teams they’ve played (with the exception of Vancouver). I’ll wait to see if they’re falling back to earth once their schedule gets a bit more challenging.

    • In the Pens defense, they took the aforementioned white hot Capitals to a shoot-out and only lost to a very good Sabers team by 1 goal. Not saying theyre world beaters without Crosby and Malkin but they’re definitely keeping up with their schedule.

    • I think you mean 4 (Washington, Vancouver, Buffalo, and Montreal) teams that made the playoffs last year. 2 and 2 versus those teams.

      • That being said, I agree with you and want to see what happens when the Penguins play the teams that are playing well this year. It will be interesting to see if they can keep it up against the teams like the Kings, Maple Leafs and Stars which are doing well at this point.

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