Pittsburgh Penguins’ young defense will be tested

Early on in this NHL season, Pittsburgh has the worse injury situation among all the NHL teams and they are still winning.

Pittsburgh on Saturday, Dec. 14 defeated the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit, 4-1, and during the process lost defenseman Kris Letang, and center Evgeni Malkin due to injuries.

On Monday, Dec. 16, Pittsburgh announced that they had played Letang on the IR.  Now Pittsburgh is out with all four of their top-4 blue line defensemen.  In addition, they will most likely be without defenseman Deryk Engelland who will have a hearing with the NHL on his hit on Red Wing’s forward Justin Abdelkader.

Now it’s up to Pittsburgh’s young defenders to step up and help the team. On Monday, Dec. 16, Pittsburgh recalled defenseman Phillip Samuelsson from WBS.  Pittsburgh will likely have the following defensemen in the lineup: Niskanen, Despres, Bortuzzo, Dumoulin, Maatta and Samuelsson. With the young talent now stepping up for key players, combined Despres (60), Bortuzzo (39), Maatta (34), Dumoulin (1) and Samuelsson (0) have played in 134 career NHL games. Now, the average age of the 5/6 defensemen is 21-years-old.

Phillip Samuelsson was called up Monday, Dec. 16.  Phillip is the son of former Penguin, Ulf Samuelsson.

Phillip Samuelsson was called up Monday, Dec. 16. Phillip is the son of former Penguin, Ulf Samuelsson.

In better news for Pittsburgh, from their morning skate as defenseman Rob Scuderi (broken ankle) and Tanner Glass (broken hand) both were on the ice with the team and ran through drills.

I believe these next few weeks will be the ultimate test for Pittsburgh’s defense.  Pittsburgh has four games this week, however, with only one game being away to New York to face the rangers.  It’s safe to say that Pittsburgh cannot afford to lose anyone else to injuries or suspensions.  It’s good to hear that Scuderi and Glass were both skating this morning.  If Pittsburgh continues to win and the defense still stays strong, than it’s safe to say that Pittsburgh has an even brighter future with their defenders.  GM Ray Shero believes in these young kids and so should Pittsburgh fans.

It hurts having all of these key guys out because the past few years one of the many negative comments about Pittsburgh and them losing in the playoffs has been the defense not stepping up or lack there of a defense.  That’s why as Pens fans we have to hope for a speedy recovery for all who are injured and hope they are injury free for the rest of the season.

More on the injury front, winger Beau Bennett (broken wrist) has missed 11 consecutive games. He was injured Nov. 22 and required surgery. Team doctors called for Bennett to miss eight to 10 weeks. He is on IR.

Pittsburgh also recalled winger Harry Zolnierczyk from WBS.

One thing is for sure, Pittsburgh fans are grateful to still have a healthy Marc-Andre Fleury and Sidney Crosby this season.

Tonight, Pittsburgh faces against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Pittsburgh for the final time this season.  The Maple Leafs were 2-8 before breaking out with an impressive 7-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night.  Despite the Blackhawks losing goalie Corey Crawford to injury, the Blackhawks are still considered one of the best teams right now in the NHL.

It will be hard for all of Pittsburgh’s defensemen to get used to their surroundings and I’m sure it will be nerve racking for some, like Samuelsson.  However, this is their time to shine, for defenders like Despres and Bortuzzo.

Here were the lines from this morning’s skate and possible projections for tonight’s game.

Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis
Zolnierczyk-Jokinen-Megna
Conner-Sutter-Vitale
Adams-Sill-Kobasew
Niskanen-Maatta
Bortuzzo-Dumoulin
Despres-Samuelsson
Engelland-Scuderi

PP1: Dumoulin skated with the top unit alongside Niskanen on the point. Crosby, Kunitz, Jokinen down low.
PP2: Despres and Maatta work the points. Kobasew, Sutter and Dupuis/Neal were down low.

 

UPDATE: After posting this article, there was an updated from the Pittsburgh Penguins twitter: “Malkin (lower-body, day-to-day). Letang & Scuderi could return post-Xmas break. Glass 3-5 days away, per coach Bylsma.”