The Pittsburgh Penguins aren't really thrilled with their defensive work
through three games against the New York Islanders, but help might be on
Defenceman Brooks Orpik - the elder statesman of the Penguins' blue line and a net-clearing presence that has been clearly missed - skated again with his teammates during a practice session on Tuesday at Nassau Coliseum.
His strides showcased far more authority during the team's most recent practice session, an indication that he might be capable of playing when the series reaches Game 4 on Tuesday night. He has not played since sustaining a lower-body injury two weeks ago against Buffalo.
The Penguins are not discussing injuries to comical extents during this postseason, so Orpik's availability may well not be known until moments before game time on Tuesday.
There is no question that the Penguins have badly missed his services.
His defense partner, Paul Martin, has struggled defensively at times without Orpik in this series. More alarming has been the play of defensemen Deryk Engelland and Simon Despres.
Engelland played poorly during the first two games of the series in Pittsburgh and, in fact, his performance in Game 2 was enough to earn a benching.
His replacement, Despres, was even worse. The rookie was on the ice for two early goals against in Game 3 and barely saw anymore ice. He finished with less than seven minutes of ice time.
The other Penguins' five defensemen - Kris Letang, Mark Eaton, Martin, Matt Niskanen and Douglas Murray - have struggled at times but are set in stone in the lineup. That sixth person - Orpik - is badly craved by the coaching staff.Neal ready to return?
Orpik might not be the only Penguins' standout back in the lineup on Tuesday. Right wing James Neal, out since Game 1 with what is believed to be an ankle injury, skated with the Penguins on Monday. He even took some line rushes with his normal centre, Evgeni Malkin.
Neal appears more of a long shot than Orpik to play, but it is believed he will be back at some point during this series.Keep it simple
The Penguins remain extremely unhappy regarding their carelessness with the puck.
Players have been saying all the right things, namely that getting pucks deep and making simple plays is paramount.
Instead, the Penguins have been contend to attempt extraordinary plays at all times. Their talent level allows them to pull this off at times. But only at times, and this has become a huge problem.
Isles healthy, but not happy
The Islanders, for their part, remain fairly pleased with their work in this series, especially during the final two games. New York has outplayed Pittsburgh in five-on-five situations during the past two games and believes it could easily be ahead in this series.
Instead, the Islanders face what is essentially a must-win game on Tuesday.
Unlike the injury-prone Penguins, the Islanders have been fairly healthy throughout this series.
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