Unlikely scorers are sharing the burden
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Many government offices and courts were closed yesterday. So were liquor stores, and there was no mail delivery.
Frankly, it seemed like a bit of an overreaction to Jarkko Ruutu scoring his first goal of the season a day earlier.
Then again, a full 64 games had passed since Ruutu's previous one, so perhaps that was a fairly measured response, after all.
At the very least, getting a goal from Ruutu -- and one from Colby Armstrong, who had gone 16 games without scoring -- in the Penguins' 4-1 victory in Buffalo helped to put coach Michel Therrien in a frame of mind befitting a holiday.
Especially after he had been expressing serious concerns about the Penguins' lack of secondary scoring in recent weeks.
"It's a good sign that other guys are starting to chip in," Therrien said.
The Penguins, who will face Florida at 7:38 tonight at Mellon Arena, relied on their power play and the Ryan Malone-Evgeni Malkin-Petr Sykora line to generate the bulk of their offense during most of the first month they played without center Sidney Crosby, who is recovering from a high ankle sprain.
The power play has been exceptional, scoring on 17 of 58 chances in the 13 games Crosby has missed, and the Malone-Malkin-Sykora line was outstanding before Therrien moved Malone off it Sunday.
Therrien reconfigured his forward units -- Maxime Talbot was plugged into Malone's spot alongside Malkin -- because he felt it was imperative to diversify the offense, even though the Penguins had gone 6-4-2 in their first dozen games without Crosby.
"Usually, if you want to be successful [over an extended period], you need everyone to contribute," Therrien said. "That's one of the recipes good teams have. You can't always count on three or four guys. In the big picture, it's not going to work."
The Penguins' recent run of goals from guys who hadn't been contributing began during a 4-2 loss at Carolina Thursday, when defenseman Brooks Orpik -- whose dry spell was almost easier to measure in months (27-plus) than in games (180) -- threw a shot past Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward for his fourth in 273 NHL games.
Ruutu must have felt he had gone without scoring for just as long before he beat Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller on a breakaway Sunday.
"It's nice for him to finally get a goal," Therrien said.
That goal seemed to energize Ruutu, who was visible all over the ice for the balance of the game. Closing out the scoring against the Sabres by hitting an empty net could have the same effect on Armstrong, who hadn't gotten a goal since the outdoor game in Buffalo Jan. 1.
"I'd had some chances," he said. "I just wasn't able to put it in. I'll take an empty-netter any day."
So, presumably, would Georges Laraque, who doesn't have a goal in 17 games, and Jeff Taffe, who hasn't scored in 12, be next? Neither plays major minutes -- both are good for eight or so per game -- but both are capable of chipping in a goal now and then, which is what the Penguins hope all their forwards will do.
"As long as we're winning, that's the key thing," Jordan Staal said. "But obviously, we need more players to step up if we want to keep winning. You can't rely on one line, especially at this time of year."
Staal, who struggled to find the net for most of the season, has regained a bit of his offensive touch lately, scoring three times in the past 10 games.
Talbot, who does not have a goal in 11 games and has just one in his past 19, hopes he can do the same.
"I want to get some more goals," he said. "I started the year pretty intense, with four goals in five games. ... Of course I'm frustrated that I'm not being able to put it in. But I'm sure it's going to come."
The Penguins are counting on it, because even if they assume that guys such as Crosby, Malkin, Malone and Sykora will show up on the scoresheet with regularity, their success in the stretch drive and playoffs might well hinge on what they get from their role players.
"Come playoff time, that's the biggest thing," Orpik said. "[Teams] can really shut down top lines in the playoffs or limit their chances. You need other lines to contribute."
First Published February 19, 2008 12:00 am