Pittsburgh Penguins’ Defense Showing Resiliency as End of Season Nears


The Pittsburgh Penguins’ defensive corps has had quite the tumultuous season.

At various points in the 2014-15 campaign, the Pens have had to deal with injuries to all four of their top defensemen – Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Olli Maatta, and Christian Ehrhoff.

With only a handful of games left before the playoffs begin, the Penguins find themselves with only one of those aforementioned blue-liners in the lineup.

The young Maatta has been lost for the season due to a shoulder injury. Ehrhoff has missed time dealing concussions and a few other bumps and bruises, and was re-injured just a couple minutes into his return to the lineup last week.

Kris Letang, who’s had a dominant season in 2014-15, has been sidelined with a concussion after taking a hard hit from Arizona’s Shane Doan in the Pens’ recent game against the Coyotes.

The rash of injuries has left Pittsburgh’s blue line in flux. They’re not only dealing with being forced to ice players of a lower quality than they wish – they in fact aren’t even able to suit up a full six-man defensive group.

Pittsburgh played their last game against San Jose with only five blue-liners. Each was forced to play increased minutes to balance out the heavier than normal workload.

Ben Lovejoy led the team in ice-time, logging 27:44. Paul Martin was right behind with 27:25.

The team’s second pairing of Rob Scuderi and Ian Cole were next with 25:36 and 25:05, respectively.

Young Derrick Pouliot manned the final spot, skating for 18:21 of ice-time.

Despite the shorthanded roster, Pittsburgh managed to come up with the victory, limiting San Jose to only two goals on 32 shots before winning in the shootout.

While Lovejoy finished as the only D-man with a minus (-1), he and Martin came up big in the contest, registering a combined 8 blocked shots. Scuderi and Cole chipped in with 4 blocks as well.

Due to salary cap restrictions and the rules regarding AHL call-ups, the Pens will be forced to play their next game (against the rival Philadelphia Flyers) with only five D-men once again.

It may be difficult, especially against an aggressive team like Philadelphia, but the Pens’ defenders are relishing the chance to play bigger roles.

“Everyone needs to step up, every single guy. All five of us have to step up and take on more minutes, more responsibility, create more and help out as much as we can,” said Ian Cole when speaking to the Pittsburgh media. “It’s exciting. I get to play a lot more. I get to be in the flow of the game. That part is a positive as long as you don’t get too tired.”

Assistant coach Gary Agnew, who is tasked with managing the team’s defenseman, indicated he feels confident in utilizing just five D-men for the time being. However, he did suggest the team may move one of the penalty-killing forwards to the blue line if need be.

Daniel Winnik, Craig Adams, and Nick Spaling were identified as the forwards who could be forced to switch to defense.

While the last thing Pittsburgh needs is Craig Adams manning the blue line during the playoffs, the Pens’ play during their recent stretch of injuries has demonstrated just how resilient this club is.

It’s an issue they’ve dealt with extensively over the past few seasons, but this year’s desolated blue line has arguably been a more difficult problem to resolve than the previous situations.

For the time being, they’ve managed quite well, with Agnew skillfully navigating the injury storm by using his defensemen in ways that he feels best leads them to success.

The team will have their resiliency tested much more on Wednesday, however, as the Flyers will surely look to use their speed to tire out the Pens’ blue line in the hopes of wearing them down for a victory.

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