[Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America]
If you took eight players away from any other 20-man roster in the National Hockey League, chances are it would lead to something catastrophic; moreover, let's say that four of those eight players are the team's top four defenseman and it gets even more difficult to handle.
In Pittsburgh however, the challenge has been embraced.
Going into Monday nights contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Penguins had eight players in the roster who had been called up from Wilkes-Barre Scranton, the Penguins AHL affiliate. Instead of mourning, head coach Dan Bylsma and captain Sidney Crosby lit a fire under the guys who are still getting adjusted to the pace of the NHL. When all was said and done, the Pens came out with a 3-1 victory, Crosby had another game winning goal, and the Pens extended their point lead in the Metropolitan Division to 10.
Depth is something that is commonly overlooked, and I don't mean third and fourth line depth, I mean depth in a franchise's developmental system. No team in recent memory has had to count on their AHL affiliate as much as the Penguins have this season, but by watching them play, it'd be difficult to notice anything out of the ordinary.
Earlier in the year, it would be unfathomable to think that there would be a game in which Olli Maatta was second on the team in ice time with over 24 minutes played. Guys like Zach Sill, who only stands at 6'0" 202 lbs., and Robert Bortuzzo have really stepped up to set a physical pace.
Even when the group of guys in the locker room are unfamiliar with each other, each player being accountable for their own role on the ice is still crucial to any team finding success.
With notable names such as Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang out, Crosby has began to show why he is more than just a special presence on the ice, but on the bench and in the locker room as well. His knack for making the big play at crucial moments in games continues to show, and it will need to continue if the Penguins want to keep breaking away from the pack in the division.
After the victory against Toronto, Crosby now has a point in his last seven games, and 10 out of his last 11.
Many teams in the NHL struggle with replacing injured veterans over the course of the season, it's part of the game; however, while many teams flounder, the Penguins are finding a way to survive.
One thing is for sure, if they're winning now, imagine what can happen when they are completely healthy.
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