Now that the Olympics are behind us, it’s time for the NHL to gear up for the final part of the season.
For Pittsburgh, some of the players will come back with gold medals, some will come back empty handed. But it’s time to look toward the push for the Stanley Cup.
Some of Pittsburgh’s players returned at the end of last week to practice with each other after a much needed break. Most of the Olympic players will practice tomorrow with the team to prepare for Montreal on Thursday. However, one Olympian was back in action today, center Evgeni Malkin returned to practice with the team today.
For Pittsburgh, they will come back from break with some unfortunate news that could cause some reshuffling of players at the trade deadline.
Defenseman Paul Martin broke his hand in Olympics. He is out 4-6 weeks. In addition, forward Beau Bennett had a setback. He now has a 3-4 week timetable.
The timetable for Kris Letang’s return from his stroke was initially set at six weeks. His injury isn’t common however, and who knows how long it will take the 26-year-old to bounce back from the scary setback. Letang has been seen at practice, just not participating.
The trade deadline is set for March 5. General Manager Ray Shero has been known lately to roll the dice in order to help his team in the playoffs. Last season, Shero acquired forward Jarome Iginla, forward Brenden Morrow, and defenseman Douglas Murray at the trade deadline. None of those players stayed however.
Today GM Ray Shero spoke out about the trade deadline. These comments come from the Pittsburgh Penguins’ twitter:
#Pens defense: ‘Adding any NHL defensemen for any team is going to be difficult. I’m comfortable with what we have internally.'”
It seems as if Shero is going to not look to trade for a defenseman at the trade deadline. With Letang and Martin questionable with their return timetable. Shero will look toward defenders of Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres. Both Despres and Bortuzzo are capable of filling in the spots for Letang and Martin at the moment. But, there I have doubts if they can help carry Pittsburgh in the playoffs
“On cap and available wingers: ‘In terms of replacing Dupuis or getting a top-line winger, that is probably far-fetched at this point.'”
It will be interesting to see what Pittsburgh does with regarding acquiring a top-line winger. There has been rumors of trading for New York Islander Thomas Vanek or Buffalo Sabre Matt Moulson at the trade deadline. Either would help Pittsburgh and be an immediate top-line winger along side Crosby and Kunitz. I think it would be smart to acquire talent like one of those two players for the first line. Bennett at the moment is not dependable enough on knowing when he might return to full action. Bennett would most likely resume duties on the second-line. Which if that is the case, then forward Jussi Jokinen would bump to the top line, which he has done this season.
In other news, goalie Tomas Vokoun is cleared to practice, but there is no timetable on return.
Pittsburgh has a tough road ahead of them in the next few weeks. On Saturday, March 1, Pittsburgh will play the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL Stadium Series at Soldier Field. According to NHL Network’s Steve Mears, the Weather Channel now shows a 40 percent chance of snow in Chicago on Saturday for the game. This is a big game not only for both teams, but for fans. This is a potential NHL Stanley Cup Finals match up. Two of the best teams in the NHL with some of the leagues youngest and best stars. It will be interesting to see how both teams handle coming back from the Olympic break.
After the Stadium Series, Pittsburgh is on a five game road trip out west which includes a trip to Anaheim to face the Ducks. The month of March won’t be kind to Pittsburgh as they will play five of the top teams in the NHL. Coming back from the break is going to be a crucial time for Pittsburgh and their cup chances.