Will Derrick Pouliot, Beau Bennett Change Penguins’ Fortunes?


The Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves reeling in the postseason once again.

Pittsburgh trails their Eastern conference quarterfinal series by a score of 3 games to 1, meaning they’ll need three straight wins to stay alive and eliminate the New York Rangers.

It’s not an entirely new situation for the Pens. Postseason success has been difficult to track down since Pittsburgh went on their championship run in 2009.

Yet this time it feels different.

The Penguins aren’t seeing excellent efforts fold due to poor goaltending. On the contrary, the play of Marc-Andre Fleury has been one of the few bright spots in the series as the veteran netminder has looked solid throughout.

It seems this time the Penguins have simply been unable to recover from the catastrophic injuries that affected their blue line. The losses of Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff, and Olli Maatta have all but evaporated the Pens’ transition game, leaving it up to the forward corps to create offense all on their own – against one of the strongest defensive groups in the league.

While the Pens’ chances aren’t looking great thus far, two upcoming additions could be just what they need to push them back into competitive status.

Penguins head coach Mike Johnston indicated today that defenseman Derrick Pouliot and forward Beau Bennett are both nearly ready to return.

Given the Pens’ one-game mentality from here on out, it’s safe to assume both will be in the lineup for Game 5 if they are at all near full health.

The additions could be just what Pittsburgh needs to fight back in this series, as each player presents something different that the Pens are in dire need of at the moment.

With Bennett comes offensive creativity and chemistry with Evgeni Malkin. While the two have not played together extensively since the James Neal days, Bennett and Malkin have shown flashes of chemistry in the past, and Geno has indicated in the past that he enjoys playing with the young winger.

He may not have seemed the ideal candidate during the dog days of the regular season, and he certainly comes with his own baggage, but with the Pens’ lives on the line and Malkin having zero points through the series’ first four games, adding in a young, creative winger like Bennett could be just what Malkin needs to break out of his slump and put the team on his back once again.

Pouliot presents an entirely different benefit. The Penguins have seen their blue-line offensive game fall apart without their top puck-moving defensemen. Though Paul Martin and Ian Cole have done their part in trying to key offensive chances from the back end, neither possesses the raw offensive skill that Pouliot does.

The young blue-liner figures to get the green light to let his creative juices flow if he suits for Game 5, and the Penguins will need him firing on all cylinders if they hope to earn a chance to play Game 6.

Beyond what each of these players bring individually, there’s something they both will contribute together – youth.

While the Pens have remained a strong team over the past few years, their core is now nearing 30. They’re certainly not washed up or fading, but the youthful energy that drove the Pens through the playoffs in 2009 isn’t there anymore.

With Pouliot and Bennett, however, it might be.

This energy certainly has tangible effects in the postseason. Fans need only look to the Calgary Flames for evidence of that, as Calgary has nearly taken down a strong Vancouver Canucks team while riding the success of forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Sam Bennett – all under 22 years old.

Pittsburgh must find this energy to rally themselves back into contention.

The season is now down to one game, Game 5, tomorrow night in New York. It’s time for Pittsburgh to dig deep and prove the mettle of their club.

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