Three Observations Heading Into Game 73 Between the Penguins and Kings

The Pens Nation Gameday Report

By: Casey Johnston (@PensNationCasey)

Penguins Are Not Allowed to Be Healthy

The Penguins are leading the NHL in man-games lost due to injury by pretty big margin.  Just as James Neal and Chris Kunitz return and Kris Letang is cleared to play, Evgeni Malkin goes down for 2-3 weeks with a foot injury.  It’s poor timing for the Penguins as Malkin was coming out of his scoring drought with big games against Detroit and Tampa Bay.  What does this mean for the Penguins?  Jussi Jokinen has registered seven points (2g-5a) in his last 10 games, including one against Phoenix on the power play from Malkin’s spot on the right side.  Jokinen can also take Malkin’s spot as second line center.  He played Sidney Crosby’s spot on the first line last year and had 11 points (7g-4a) in 10 games.  Jussi Jokinen is no Evgeni Malkin, but he can fill in for a couple of weeks while Malkin heals up.

First Line Still Coming Together

In the last 10 games, the first line of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, and Lee Stempniak has produced 17 points at even strength.  The second line of Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Jussi Jokinen had only nine points in that same span.  Stempniak is fitting in so well that he’s scored nearly a quarter of this season’s points in just 11 games with the Penguins.  If Malkin comes back in time for the playoffs, then the Penguins will enter the first round with a healthy and lethal top two lines.  Add in Kris Letang and Paul Martin and that makes for a healthy defensive corps to go along with the first and second lines.  The bottom six lines may leave much to be desired, but every team is incomplete.  The big question is whether or not the defense and top forwards lines can carry the team through the Eastern Conference.

Another Measuring Stick

If the regular season ended today, the Los Angeles Kings would be in third place in the Pacific Division and five points ahead of the first wild card spot.  If we placed them in the Metro Division with the Penguins then they would be in second place and in a tight race for the top spot.  The Kings are a good team.  They’re the kind of team Pittsburgh should appreciate.  They’re a hard-working blue collar group that doesn’t overachieve.  They have 90 points and a +27 goal differential despite being 27th in the league in scoring.  Much of that has to do with being first in the league in goals against and third in shots per game.  The Kings make up for their lack of scoring by being difficult to play against.  This is the kind of game the Penguins will have to win in the playoffs.  Pay attention to how they react tonight.