Originally posted on Bleed Black & Gold  |  Last updated 3/3/12

With the post-season about a month away, the Penguins have really started to hit their stride.  They moved into 4th in the East while holding the second highest point total in the Conference behind the Rangers and their special teams rank among the top five in the NHL for both the PP and PK.  The high tempo style behind Hart Trophy front runner Evgeni Malkin has also lead the Penguins to be the 4th highest scoring team in the NHL.  Pretty scary considering they are still a top third defensive team with one of the better goalies in the NHL.  Yep, its pretty much coming together for the Pens at the right time…..or is it?

Let’s face it, the Pens are playing great hockey.  They are 16-4-1 in their last 21 games and have been dominant on home ice, but they still have one major hurdle they need to get past before the playoffs.  They have to get healthy.  Letang went down with what is being described as concussion like symptoms again after taking a shot to the head last week against the Stars.  It didn’t appear to be a dirty play and there was no disciplinary action taken by the NHL, but this is becoming a common theme for Letang.  The first hit that took Letang out for 20+games appeared malicious but on this occassion he had is head down looking to play a puck and got clipped as Nystrom skated by.  It is one of those unfortunate hockey plays you see from time to time and it’s something the Pens will have to overcome moving forward.

Also still on the daily injury report is captain Sidney Crosby.  Sid continues to progress in his recovery and has been skating with the team for a couple weeks now without contact.  He appears not far from returning, but its hard to venture a guess when or if he will return to the ice this season.  Some believe that the quiet trade deadline for the Pens indicates that Crosby will be back before the playoffs, and while i tend to agree with this logic, I still think a lot depends on the next couple of weeks.  There’s no doubt that if Ray Shero thought Crosby was out for the remainder of the year that he would have tried to look for another option to bolster the roster, but I never really caught wind of any valid rumors and I think he was quite content with where the team was at.  I can’t blame him with how good the team has looked in recent weeks, but I still believe that if the Penguins need their full arsenal if they are going to make a serious run at winning the Stanley Cup this year.  That means that both Crosby and Letang need to return to the lineup and get back to form in the next month.  That’s a tall order considering the length of time which both players have missed with concussions. 

In the mean time, while we keep and eye on the health of some of the Pens big guns, we still are in the midst of a push for the division.  The Penguins remain 9 pts back of the Rangers with two games left to play against them.  It is possible for the Pens to make up some ground though this week as the Rangers have tough games against Boston and New Jersey coming up.  The Pens though have to stay hot against the Avs, Coyotes and Maple Leafs if they wanta  realistic chance to surpass the East leading Rangers.  The next week will begin to shape up the playoff picture and give us a better idea if the Pens can make a run at the top seed in the East.

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