The Penguins suffered a potential crippling blow when they lost Sergei Gonchar (190 points over the last three seasons) to shoulder surgery shortly after losing Ryan Whitney until January because of foot surgery.
Early injury trouble a concern
Gonchar’s shoulder and Whitney’s foot mean few hands are left to work the Penguins’ power play and who will eventually quarterback it is anyone’s guess. They still have Darryl Sydor, but he’s 36 and far removed from his days running the Dallas power play with Sergei Zubov. They also have Kris Letang, but he’s only 21 and this is a considerably larger challenge than running the power play in Val d’Or or with the national junior team.
The wild card is Alex Goligoski who is not, as might be surmised, the next best Russian on the Penguins. The 23-year-old out of the University of Minnesota is a puck mover with potential, but a PP quarterback on a Cup contender? Probably not.
Complicating matters is that the Pens are not an entry-level team. They’ve just been to the final, feel they can win the Cup and can’t waste a year with the terrific talent they have up front. The window of opportunity isn’t open wide so they’ll have to weigh some options.
They could sit tight and hope the young talent emerges and carries the team until Whitney comes back and try to get the job done with what they’ve got. Hey, youth is already serving them pretty well. Or they could make a trade (Calgary has an excess on the blue-line and Adrian Aucoin might be a fit).
Problem is the Penguins made a big deal at the deadline last season for Marian Hossa and didn’t win it all. They gave up two young forwards (Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen) and a first round pick, then Hossa walked. They don’t have the depth for a deal they had a year ago.
Sens thin on blue-line
The Senators are pretty much in the same boat. They have excellent forwards but look thin on the blue-line.
Last season, the top power-play minute men from their defensive corps were Wade Redden, Andrei Meszaros, and Joe Corvo. All three are gone. We can’t be sure who will pick up all those minutes. We know it won’t be Jason Smith, while Brian Lee and Alex Picard are the Ottawa equivalent of Letang and Goligoski - eager, green and untested.
The Senators’ options to upgrade are similar to the Penguins and both teams may have to trade a forward they don’t really want to.
Both squads also have forwards who can play the point on the power play. Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh didn’t look like he really wanted to late in the playoffs, while Daniel Alfredsson will almost certainly have to play the point in Ottawa.
And that’s just the power play. Then there’s the difficulty of keeping the puck out of the net. In each case, the uncertainty on defence reminds us that none of the last 10 finalists have made it past the first round of playoffs the following year.
This Stockholm convention is our first good look at the jiggly back ends of the Pens and Sens. Two teams hoping to exorcise that curse.
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