The Pittsburgh Penguins are set to resume playing on Feb. 27, when they face-off against the Montreal Canadiens at the CONSOL Energy Center.
Right now, Pittsburgh currently has seven players, two coaches, and one general manager participating in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
While those affiliates will come back, hopefully unscathed, the Penguins also have a vast majority of their roster vacationing – with various workout sessions integrated in I’m sure.
Given that information, the team is going to have a mixture of tired and refreshed skaters, making it difficult to predict how the squad will ultimately perform. In my opinion, the Penguins haven’t faired to well when they’ve been dormant from game-action for an extended period of time.
Perfect example, the Eastern Conference Finals last postseason. Quickly dispatching the Ottawa Senators in the second-round, Pittsburgh was gifted with a long break before they began battling the Boston Bruins. Mustering just two goals, the Penguins couldn’t seem to find any production, even with all the star-power they had – and that’s not taking anything away from Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask, who played unreal.
Although hockey players will probably disagree with the audience when they say too much time-off doesn’t determine the outcome of games, it certainly does. Not that chemistry has completely become invisible, but perhaps the rhythm they built in previous outings is absent from their performance.
However, let’s say the team re-assembles and doesn’t show any alteration in their game from the layoff, Pittsburgh knows they’ll be re-inserting some injured players.
Forwards Beau Bennett and Joe Vitale are likely back with the Pens following the break, and due to how well Brian Gibbons and Jayson Megna have performed, the chemistry aspect may be prominently insufficient on Feb. 27.
Of course, both Bennett and Vitale could come in and contribute immensely, and I’m not leaving that out of consideration. However, Bennett hasn’t played since November, and wasn’t really excelling in the 12 games he did skate in.
Bennett, who was given top-line duties alongside captain Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, will in all likelihood continue to do so upon returning – and it’s a big question mark as to if he’ll be effective. Garnering a total of three points (1G, 2A) on the season so far, Bennett’s got a lot of catching up to do.
And that doesn’t help GM Ray Shero’s plans for a potential trade in March, because he’s got little time to decide if Bennett’s the man for the first-line role.
As for Vitale, I feel he’ll be fine. They may have to slowly work him back into form, but I anticipate him being just as productive as before he visited the injured reserve.
The real issue here is dictating who to start and who to scratch.
Gibbons has really come on here in the last few games for Pittsburgh, and Megna has brought another dimension to that secondary scoring. If Bennett and Vitale re-enter the show, it most likely spells the end of both Gibbons and Megna’s NHL-run for this season.
Not to mention, the team will be getting forward Taylor Pyatt back, who figures to be another piece to their forward puzzle.
So, Pittsburgh has got lots of peculiarity awaiting them when they start playing again. Will they look languid? tip-top? Or out of sync?
Let’s not forget the trade deadline is approaching – will they deal?
Plenty of questions that need to be answered soon.