Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Best & Worst Case Scenarios For The Penguins

As we have all heard by now, the Penguins lost captain and star center Sidney Crosby for the foreseeable future due to the dreaded high ankle sprain. Sid was tied for the NHL scoring lead entering the game and will obviously be missed by the Pens. Early indications were that Sid could be back in four weeks, but after some tests were done today the only conclusion was that more tests are needed. After watching how slowly things have gone with Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury I'll be happy if Sid is back in six weeks.

Ron Francis would have shaken it off! j/k

So where do the Penguins go from here? They are still tied with the Devils for the lead in the Atlantic Division, but this division has been so tough this year that they are only six points ahead of the last place Rangers entering today's games. The Penguins have more than their share of injury troubles right now, but they still have enough talent to stay in the thick of things until Crosby returns. There are a lot of different ways things could go for Pittsburgh as the season winds down. Here are the best and worst case scenarios:

Best Case Scenario:
If the Mellon Arena roof opens and the Hockey Gods smile upon the Pittsburgh Penguins, the following things will take place:
  • Sidney Crosby will be out only four weeks and return to the Penguins lineup refreshed and ready to carry the team through a deep playoff run this Spring.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury will return form his high ankle sprain by mid-February and regain the form he was showing before the injury when he was playing his best hockey of the season.
  • Gary Roberts will return form his broken leg on schedule and rested.
  • Evgeni Malkin will thrive in the absence of Crosby, playing like the franchise center he was always intended to be before Sid was drafted, and maintain that high level of play even after Sid returns from injury.
  • Conk keeps on being Conk and helps the Pens maintain their lead in the Atlantic.
  • Jordan Staal awakens from his slumber and regains the scoring touch (and luck) he displayed during his rookie campaign.
  • Petr Sykora goes on one of his hot streaks and helps fill the scoring void left by Sid.
  • With the brass of a riverboat gambler, Ray Shero brings in some added scoring punch at the trade deadline.
  • Tyler Kennedy continues to develop and provide timely scoring for the Penguins.
  • Colby Armstrong and Ryan Malone find a way to score consistently without Sid on the ice with them.
  • The Penguins defense tightens up like a dad on prom night.
If all these things happen (yes that's a huge if, but like I said this is the best case scenario), then everything will be in place for the Pens to make a deep run into the playoffs and possibly all the way to the Finals. If the Pens can catch a few breaks and stay in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, there's no reason why this time off for their injured players couldn't prove to be a blessing in the long run. But then again...

Worst Case Scenario:
For every silver lining there's a cloud. Let's take a look at what might transpire if Sid's ankle injury turns out to be the iceberg to the Penguins' Titanic of a season. After all, the following things could happen:
  • Sid misses eight weeks or more and the Pens are out of the playoff hunt by the time he returns.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury makes it back around the same time Sid does.
  • Gary Roberts just isn't the same after his eventual return to the ice. Not that he was filling the net before he broke his leg.
  • Jordan Staal keeps producing the way he has been all season. If you can call it production.
  • Conk goes back to being Ty Conklin.
  • Malkin folds under the pressure of carrying the team offensively and is a shadow of his previous self.
  • None of the depth players pick up any of the scoring slack.
  • The Penguins defense puts too much pressure on themselves to ease the burden on the forwards and buckles.
  • The rest of the Atlantic Division runs roughshod over the depleted Penguins and drops them to the bottom of the standings.
As great as the best case scenario would be, the above events could just as easily happen and this season could quickly become one to forget for the Penguins. This could be a season remembered by Penguins fans with one phrase... high ankle sprain.

I'm optimistic that the Penguins will keep things going well enough to stay afloat until Sid returns, assuming that happens around the six week mark I mentioned before. If Sid's injury drags out the way MAF's has then the Penguins could be in real trouble. Hopefully the rest will agree with Sid and he can come back for the playoffs with something to prove and help get the Pens at least to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The biggest thing for the Penguins to be successful is that they need to replace Sid's production as a team and not look to one guy to do it. Yes Geno will be looked to the most, but the Pens will also need more from guys like Staal, Malone, Sykora, Armstrong, Ruutu, and Christensen. It is going to take a complete team effort for the Penguins to keep up their recent winning ways, but there's no reason at all to think they can't do it. I'm sure there are more than a couple guys in that locker room eager and able to fight for a spot in that spotlight that was attached to Crosby.

The bottom line is that if winning the Cup was easy, we wouldn't have to sit around and listen to Mats Sundin trade rumors all Winter. The Pens need to pull it together and get after it as a team. And this is one fan who thinks they can.

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