When the Penguins welcome back their Olympians before NHL play resumes this week, they will have their two dominant scorers back.
Centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have provided a ton of the team's offense.
That's hardly a surprise -- each has won an NHL scoring title, and Crosby is in the hunt for another.
But the question remains: Are those two getting enough offensive support from the rest of the lineup to give the Penguins a solid chance to repeat as Stanley Cup champions?
Friday, after practice at Southpointe, winger Tyler Kennedy seemed to be in the minority with his belief that there is enough scoring balance.
"I don't think we're having a problem with secondary scoring," Kennedy said. "They put up a lot of points, but so do a lot of other guys.
"Everyone knows Sid and 'Geno' are going to lead us, and so is [forward Jordan Staal]. Everyone knows we have to help out, and we try our best to do that."
Crosby leads the Penguins and ranks third in the NHL with 78 points in 61 games. Malkin is second on the team and tied for 13th in the league with 65 points in 55 games.
Those two have accounted for close to one-third of the club's goals (63 of 195) and points (143 of 510).
Staal, a strong two-way player usually deployed as the third-line center, is third on the team with 16 goals, 39 points.
Four others are in double figures in goals, but only five players not named Crosby or Malkin have as many as 25 points with 20 games left in the regular season, beginning with Tuesday's home game against Buffalo.
Winger Pascal Dupuis is holding up his end fairly well with 13 goals, 25 points, but he would like to see players other than the top two putting up more numbers after the Olympic break.
"It's one of those things where you hope it, you want it, you need it to win those big hockey games," Dupuis said. "Maybe a little bit of time away from the game, guys who have not been scoring will not think about it and pucks are going to go in. Sometimes the hockey gods are funny that way."
Crosby and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury were chosen for Team Canada for Vancouver. Malkin and defenseman Sergei Gonchar played for Russia. Defenseman Brooks Orpik is part of the U.S. squad.
In the 12 games before those five left for Vancouver and the rest of the Penguins took some time off, Crosby and Malkin shouldered the bulk of the scoring load.
One or both figured in on 33 of the team's 37 goals in those 12 games. Each had 21 points during that stretch, with Crosby racking up 12 goals, Malkin, seven.
The next-highest point total over those 12 games was seven by defenseman Kris Letang. Staal, Dupuis and wingers Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko each had five points.
The idea, said winger Mike Rupp, isn't for the rest of the team to scramble to try to equal the output of Crosby and Malkin. It's more about complementing those two.
"It's just timely goals," said Rupp, who has 11 goals, nearly double his previous one-season high of six, but has no points in his past 17 games. Forward Craig Adams has a longer drought -- no points in 29 games and no goals in 91 regular-season games.
"Myself, I'm one of those guys that hasn't really [provided depth scoring] as of late," Rupp said. "Sid and 'Geno' and those guys are guys that are always going to carry the team. It's those timely goals from other guys that are going to relieve some pressure from them and make us a more deadly team, so I think it's something that we're looking for consistently throughout our whole lineup these last 20 games."
The Penguins' non-Olympians resumed practice Wednesday, and they have had a chance to work on their offense without Crosby and Malkin.
"They're not here right now," Dupuis said. "We've got to practice. We've got to get ready for games."
Malkin and Gonchar, whose Russian team closed its Olympic run Wednesday, are expected to return to practice Monday. The Penguins were off Saturday, and there was no word on when the other Olympians will be back with their NHL teammates.
Another addition of sorts might be forward Max Talbot, who has eclipsed 10 goals each of the past three seasons and seems to come up with clutch goals but whose 2009-10 season has been gutted by injury. He has just one goal in 28 games but could be close to full health coming out of the Olympic break.
"When we're at our best, every line is contributing," Talbot said. "It's not just Sid and 'Geno.' Yes, that's how we've been winning hockey games -- they've been carrying it.
"But when [Staal's] line and the fourth line get some goals, it always helps the team. It was that way last year, too. Same thing. When we're getting goals from all the lines, it's easier for the top guys to feel comfortable.
"That's what we're going to try to find for the next 20 games."
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published February 28, 2010 5:00 AM