Penguins players hope winning streak is their voice in trade talks
March 24, 2013 12:00 PM
The Penguins' Dustin Jeffrey battles for a loose puck.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Penguins general manager Ray Shero has a lot of people he can consult when contemplating a trade or other personnel move.
He has staff members, coaches, scouts and perhaps a friend or two in the hockey business.
One group not on Shero's speed dial in those matters is the players.
They have their opinions, of course, and right now they are hoping that with the April 3 NHL trade deadline approaching, Shero decides the club is good enough to stand pat, or something close to that.
The players' voice is limited to their performance and their cohesiveness in the locker room. They figure they have spoken as clearly as possible by assembling an 11-game winning streak heading into tonight's game against rival Philadelphia at Consol Energy Center, possibly making it more difficult for Shero to want to swing a deal or two or three.
Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 7:38 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Ilya Bryzgalov for Flyers.
Have won 11 games in row. ... Are 11-4 at home. ... Are 2-1 vs. Philadelphia by a combined 14-11.
Are 4-12-0 on road. ... Are 2-5 in past 7 games. ... Max Talbot has 3 goals, 4 points in past 6 games.
Winger Pascal Dupuis has 46 shots in Penguins 11-game winning streak.
"Yeah, hopefully," center and team captain Sidney Crosby said. "It says a lot about the guys in [the locker room]. I think that's a good problem to have as a general manager because of a team showing some positive signs.
"I think guys have been focused on [playing well]. They haven't been too preoccupied with other things."
The winning streak certainly helps their cause, especially when they have been winning while two key figures -- center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang -- have been hurt.
Both are close to returning.
"It makes the locker room nice and tight," winger Chris Kunitz said of all the winning. "Everyone's feeling good about the way they're playing.
"Maybe it's nice that we don't even have all of our best [because of injuries] and we go out and find a way to win."
But Shero and his staff have to look ahead to the playoffs and determine what, if anything, might help ensure that the club doesn't suffer another first-round loss as it has the past two years.
The Penguins have won just one playoff series since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009.
Any holes in the lineup probably haven't seemed as glaring lately. The Penguins are in first place in the Eastern Conference with 48 points, which also puts them firmly in first place in the Atlantic Division, 14 points in front of New Jersey before games Saturday night.
There were some deficiencies earlier, perhaps attributed at least in part to a lockout that shortened training camp to a week and pushed the start of the season back to Jan. 19.
That led to a checklist of needs, not discussed by Shero but assembled by vocal fans and critics.
That list included:
• A physical, sound defenseman. The thinking was that there was too much traffic around their net and the team was yielding too many scoring chances. Over the past seven games of their winning streak, the Penguins have given up just eight goals. And that's without Letang the past two-plus games because of a leg problem.
• A left winger for Malkin. After a carousel of on-the-job tryouts, rookie Beau Bennett has slotted in there nicely with two goals, eight points and a plus-minus rating of plus-7 in 17 games, although Malkin has missed the past seven because of what is believed to be a shoulder injury.
• An elite winger for Crosby. While there is no lobby at this point for Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis to be headed to the Hall of Fame, the two 33-year-olds have helped form arguably the top line in the NHL. Crosby leads the league with 52 points. Kunitz has 41 -- second in the league before games Saturday -- and Dupuis has 15 goals, 23 points.
• A depth forward or two. While the third and fourth lines -- behind those centered by Crosby and Malkin -- have extra defensive responsibilities, they have increased their offensive contribution. The six regulars on those lines have combined for 11 goals (four game-winning goals) and 20 points during the winning streak.
"You talk about some of the things people thought we would need earlier in the year, and you look at now and the team's doing well," said fourth-line center Joe Vitale, who has his first two goals of the season during the streak.
"You have to hand it to the guys -- they've been doing a good job this year."
Shero, of course, could decide to pursue a trade that would address any of the above areas, or others.
"I think he always will look at ways to improve our team," Kunitz said. "Going forward, I think that's always their motivation.
"When a team's going well, everything looks good. I'm sure he's got ideas of what he needs to do moving forward. But that's one of the things players don't control. We never will. We go out and play our game."
NOTES -- The Penguins had the day off Saturday. ... Tonight's game was pushed back to 7:38 for television. It originally was scheduled for 7:08. ... The Penguins are scheduled to wear their blue alternate uniforms tonight.