The Fully Healthy Lineup by @ExcitedBobErrey


The Penguins have been hit hard with the injury bug so far during the 2103-14 season, but with the regular season less than a month from being finished they received some good news on Monday. Kris Letang, Beau Bennett, Chris Kunitz, and James Neal were cleared for full practice, with both Kunitz and Neal playing in Tuesday's win over the Dallas Stars. While Kunitz and Neal only missed a couple games a piece with their injuries, Letang and Bennett have been out of the lineup much longer. While there's still more work to be done to get cleared for games, especially in Letang's case as he's recovering from a stroke, there's a very realistic chance that both could be back in time for the playoffs. Paul Martin has yet to be cleared for practice, but could return sometime during the first round. Even Tomas Vokoun could be an option for the playoff roster, as he has been practicing with the team and could get a conditioning assignment in Wilkes-Barre to try getting him up to game speed. With the absence of Pascal Dupuis, who was lost for the year with an ACL tear, Pittsburgh could be completely healthy for the playoffs and at full strength for basically the first time all season. A breakdown of how the lineup might look after the jump.




Forwards

Kunitz - Crosby - Stempniak
Jokinen - Malkin - Neal
Bennett - Sutter - Vitale
Glass - Goc - Adams

The top 6 appears to be set in stone at this point in the season, and it's unlikely that anything will happen to shake things up. While Bennett  had been in the mix for a spot on Malkin's wing, Jokinen's play and the quick chemistry Stempniak has developed with Crosby and Kunitz makes it unlikely Bennett will bump either to the 3rd line. In his short time with the team Stempniak has displayed many of the characteristics that made Pascal Dupuis such a good fit, and it's no surprise the top line is finding the back of the net more often as a result.

The bottom six will be much more fluid, with combinations and players likely to be switched depending on opponent and performance. It seems likely that Bylsma would favor Sutter add the third line center and Goc as the 4th line center, although both could play together on the 3rd line. Even in that scenario Bylsma is unlikely to use Goc in a traditional 4th line center role and likely would find ways to get him on the ice more often.

With Goc centering the 4th line, Vitale would seem likely to be bumped to the wing on the 3rd line as his speed would work well with Bennett and Sutter. While maybe not the most deserving, Glass and Adams would be likely candidates for the 4th line wingers as veterans Bylsma trusts. Engelland and Pyatt would be the forwards scratched. It's likely that Gibbons and Megna will find a spot on the postseason roster as well since the salary cap and normal 23 man limit won't apply, although they'll probably stay in Wilkes-Barre to get playing time as long as the Baby Pens remain in the AHL playoffs.

Defensemen

Niskanen/Maatta
Orpik/Martin
Scuderi/Letang

The Penguins haven't had an opportunity to ice a healthy defense corps so far this season, as a defenseman always seems to get injured before another was set to return. Once healthy, it seems likely that Martin and Orpik will be reunited, and that Scuderi will serve as the stay home defenseman on a pairing with Letang. This would leave Maatta and Niskanen, the two most impressive defensemen that have suited up for the Penguins this season, to play together.

One of the problems that has plagued Bylsma in past postseasons had been overplaying his top defenseman, but given the pairings it seems likely that paying time will be fairly evenly distributed. If Orpik and Scuderi can rediscover their games a bit playing with Martin and Letang it'd be difficult to determine which pairings are the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd pairings. One way or another, when healthy, Dan Bylsma should have the most balanced group of defensemen he's had to work with since taking over add head coach.

Robert Bortuzzo is likely to serve as the 7th defenseman with Deryk Engelland also on the roster as an option at both forward and defense. Simon Despres has played well as of late, but being waiver exempt he'll likely be the odd man out and will sit up for Wilkes-Barre and be called up after their playoff run ends.

Goalies

Marc-Andre Fleury will enter the playoffs as the starter and will stay in that role throughout the playoffs absent another postseason meltdown. Who dresses as the backup could be an interesting storyline. Jeff Zatkoff has played well for the Pens in his limited starts, although if Tomas Vokoun can price he's fully healthy and up to game speed it's likely Bylsma would uae him as Fleury's backup. All 3 goalies are on one way contacts, but Vokoun could be sent to Wilkes-Barre for a conditioning assignment. Hopefully the backup goalie doesn't matter in the playoffs, but the past few seasons have shown that it's good to have a plan B.






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