Penguins Could Face an Uphill Battle by @griffTHW

The Pittsburgh Penguins are the Led Zeppelin of the NHL: blessed with the rarest of talent that most can only dream about, yet, afflicted with more misfortune than many could handle.  And, while an alleged curse brought about the band's hardships, it has been the injury bug that seemingly decimates the Penguins year in and year out.

The latest to fall victim?  Pascal Dupuis.  An apparent knee injury suffered Monday night has the coaching staff hoping the damage isn't too severe but things certainly appeared grim as the winger was helped off the ice.

Time will tell how long Dupuis finds himself on the shelf but, in the meantime, the Pens will have to find a way to overcome the loss of yet another key contributor.


A History of Perseverance

The Penguins have long been a club forced to overcome injuries to key players.  From Mario Lemieux's courageous and improbable return from Hodgkin's Disease to the club overcoming his broken hand in 1992 en route to capturing Pittsburgh's second consecutive Cup,
a precedent has long existed for overcoming adversity in Western Pennsylvania.

Fast forward to the Sidney Crosby Era and you'll find more of the same. 

In Game 7 of the '09 Stanley Cup Finals, for example, Max Talbot's pair of tallies allowed the Pens to overcome a second period injury to their captain in the biggest game of the season. 

In the years that followed, severe injuries to Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and others have threatened entire campaigns.  In fact, Sid has missed a mind-boggling 113 games since the start of the 2010 season while Geno has missed 70 in the same time frame.  Yet, the team has always marched on, finishing no worse than fourth in the East during any of those injury plagued years.

This season, though, the injury bug continues to wreak havoc like never before.  With injuries to Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Kris Letang (twice), Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Beau Bennett, Tanner Glass, Tomas Vokoun, and, most recently, Pascal Dupuis, the Penguins have lost more man games to injury than anyone in the league.  But, despite the loss of their back up goaltender, a former scoring champion and MVP and their top four defensemen, the Penguins amazingly lead the Eastern Conference in points as we enter the Christmas break.

With this latest injury, though, one has to wonder...

Is Dupuis' Injury the Straw that Broke the Camel's Back?

The Penguins have overcome a plethora of injuries thanks in large part to their depth along the blue line and strong play in net.  Sure, it's advantageous that Crosby continues to pace the league in scoring, helping to ensure that Pittsburgh's attack remains one of the most potent on the circuit.  And, no, it doesn't hurt that the Pens own the NHL's second ranked power play (first until an abysmal performance in Ottawa Monday night). 

But it was the adversity overcome by an incredibly green defensive unit that proved paramount to the club's recent hot streak, allowing Pittsburgh to further establish a stranglehold on the Metropolitan Division.  With Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta anchoring the blue line, the likes of Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson stepped up to ensure the Penguins remained stingy in their own end.  Indeed, the group's strong play consistently exemplified the incredible depth Ray Shero has brought to the organization's blue line.

A significant injury to Dupuis, however, presents an entirely different situation. The Penguins dont possess the organizational depth at forward that they do along the blue line. Sure, they've overcome injuries to Malkin and Neal but a big part of that perseverance results from others, such as Crosby and Chris Kunitz, stepping up to fill the void of offensive production. 

However, in Dupuis, the Penguins could be missing one of the most versatile players in their lineup, someone who missed only two games since the start of the 2009-'10 campaign. He's a heart and soul player, a beloved teammate who gives every ounce of everything he has during every shift of every game. Not only can he be counted on for roughly 20 goals a year (virtually all of which come at even strength since he doesn't play on the power play) but he's also one of the club's most effective penalty killers. Logging nearly two minutes per game of short handed ice time, Pascal has become a mainstay on the Pens' second ranked penalty killing unit.

Ultimately, Dupuis' blinding speed, tenacity and heart and soul character won't be traits that Dan Bylsma can easily replace. Sure, maybe a Tanner Glass (likely to return to action Friday night) can help soften the blow, at least on the penalty kill. But, if "Duper" finds himself on the shelf for the long haul, Ray Shero may need to look at the trade market to make up for such a significant loss.  Of course, that likely depends on how long Dupuis will be out.

Regardless, replacing Dupuis will present new challenges for a squad already ravaged by injuries.  But, hey, at least it's the type of adversity the Penguins have somehow managed to overcome again and again over the years.
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