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Shero: Depth will carry Pens through rough patch

Friday, 11.20.2009 / 1:00 AM / Quarterly Report

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

 
At least Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero sees the big picture, because if he was thinking small he would be visibly terrified right now considering all of the Penguins injuries.

"Our depth is being tested," Shero told NHL.com.

Pittsburgh lost 6-2 Thursday in Ottawa, but they played the game without four of their top six defensemen. Sergei Gonchar was playing for the first time in a month after breaking his wrist.

Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Alex Goligoski and Jay McKee also all out. Even Mark Eaton is playing hurt. On top of that, Evgeni Malkin missed seven games and Tyler Kennedy hasn't played since Nov. 3.

Maxime Talbot finally made his season debut Thursday after having offseason shoulder surgery.

The injuries caused Pittsburgh to go into a mini-tailspin, with four straight losses from Nov. 5-12. Sidney Crosby even went an unheard of five straight games without a point before assisting on Ruslan Fedotenko's goal in a 4-1 loss to New Jersey eight days ago.

Despite all that, the Penguins had won back-to-back games heading into Ottawa on Thursday and now they trail the Atlantic Division-leading Devils by only one point, though they have two games in hand. Crosby leads the team with 10 goals and 21 points in 22 games.

So, yeah, Shero believes the Penguins have impressively handled their championship status (not an easy thing to do), and as we get closer to U.S. Thanksgiving he's thankful they built up enough equity by winning 11 of their first 13 games to stay afloat while being ravaged by injuries.

"Part of the challenge that we're finding now coming back as Stanley Cup champions is every team is ready for you," Shero said. "Their building is full and they are up for it to beat the Penguins. We knew this was coming but it's quite the challenge and it's quite a compliment to teams like Detroit, who face it every year coming back.

"So far I think our team has responded well. We have a number of injuries … but we had quite a few injuries last year but at the end they helped us because other guys stepped up into prominent roles and were ready for down the line. We'll see what happens this year."

Shero does believe the Stanley Cup changed the Penguins, but in a positive way. They believe that if they play the right way and follow coach Dan Bylsma's system they can win again. That belief hasn't wavered in the face of injuries.

"That's a good feeling going into every game thinking you can win the game," Shero said. "It's not always going to go our way every night and we know that, but we have to keep playing the right way and we think in the long run it's going to be a good thing for us."

As for Crosby, other than the fact he now has a championship on his resume, the Cup hasn't changed him one iota, Shero said.

At 22 years old, he's still the evolving leader of this franchise.

"The Stanley Cup, what it does, it makes him a champion," Shero said of the captain and Olympic torch bearer. "Before he was an Art Ross winner, a Hart Trophy winner, this or that, but now he's a champion -- a Stanley Cup champion. That changes your career and that will forever be on his resume."

Now the question for Crosby isn't when, it's how many. Shero doesn't like that, however.

"I mean, these things are difficult," the GM said. "Now people are saying, 'How many?' Are you kidding me? This is a hard League to win in and we're in a cap system, but to have that feather in their cap only three or four years in I think says a lot about him."

And Malkin, too. You can throw Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Staal, Orpik, Kennedy, Letang and Goligoski into that mix, as well.

The Penguins' championship core, which also includes Gonchar, Talbot, Fedotenko, Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz, among others, remains very much in tact. As soon as they all get healthy, Shero believes they'll start playing like champions again.

"I don't want to say (the feeling of being a champion) has worn off because I think once you have won you have won, but as a team we have put that to the side and we haven't talked about repeating at all," Shero said. "We've talked about getting to be the best we can be through the course of a season and establishing certain patterns for how we're going to play. Those are the standards our coaching staff has set. We're not about repeating or defending. We're about trying to win like 29 other teams."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com
Quote of the Day

I might have blacked out. I was pretty pumped.

— New Jersey Devils rookie goalie Keith Kinkaid on his first NHL win Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning