The Penguins made some significant additions in the week leading up to the trade deadline in Brenden Morrow, Doug Murray and Jarome Iginla – then, just as quickly, suffered some major losses.
Saturday, captain Sidney Crosby underwent surgery to repair his jaw, broken by a shot from his own teammate, defenseman Brooks Orpik, and is out indefinitely. Sunday, defenseman Paul Martin’s resurgent season was cut short by hand surgery; his timetable is four to six weeks. Kris Letang, the team’s top defenseman, returned to the lineup for all of one day before suffering a broken toe and going back on IR for seven to 10 days, and starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury missed nearly a week after taking the brunt of a goal-crease collision with teammate Tyler Kennedy.
Backup netminder Tomas Vokoun filled in admirably for Fleury – finishing one combined shutout and posting two more of his own – but then the losses seemed to start to add up for the Penguins. They went from being the first team in league history to run the table for an entire calendar month, with a 15-game win streak in March, to looking lethargic and abandoning their defensive game, starting April with 4-1 and 6-1 losses to the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers, respectively.
GM Ray Shero went to the trade market once more before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. deadline, acquiring 30-year-old center Jussi Jokinen from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for a conditional sixth- or seventh-round draft pick in 2013. A onetime 30-goal scorer, Jokinen adds depth, flexibility and strength in the faceoff circle, with a 59.4 percent success rate this year, to a Penguins lineup that can use those attributes, especially in Crosby’s absence.
“He’s a guy you always circle as one of the guys on a team you need to pay attention to in a lot of different areas,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “A skilled guy, seems to have a great release, a good shot that’s effective on the power play, and a guy who is versatile – plays center, plays wing, plays in both special teams, takes faceoffs.”
The addition of Jokinen allows the Penguins to move away from their short-term solution of promoting forward Tyler Kennedy from a bottom-six role on the wing to subbing for Crosby as a top-line center between Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
“This is a particular case without Sidney Crosby, for whatever period of time that is, and [in Jokinen] you have a very good guy who’s put up lots of points to fill in and be a real good centerman for you on that line,” Bylsma said. “We obviously anticipate getting all healthy at one point, and that would leave different options available. I think you can see him being a guy who could play on a fourth line and fill specific roles on your team; he’s not just a guy who’s here for one specific thing and then out of the lineup. He adds depth to our team.”
As for the back-to-back losses, the Penguins will look to get back to the strong defensive play, opportunistic goal scoring and full-team efforts that defined their 15-game win streak Friday, when they host the Rangers in the second part of a home-and-home.
“We had a few of those in the streak where we had a [bad] period or a stretch of 10 minutes, and we found a way to play well enough to get things turned around, get back to our game and find ways to win those,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said after the loss to Buffalo. “Tonight, we just didn’t have much of an answer. Things weren’t going well from the start and we just didn’t have a whole lot of pushback, not a whole lot of urgency offensively to execute with the puck to get our game going.”
“I thought the compete level from the Rangers was very high, and we didn’t match it,” Bylsma said following the loss in New York. “It wasn’t there, and it was evident throughout the game.
“We were forced in a big way. We were forced by their forecheck, we were forced by their speed – they forced us into turnovers, and they certainly took advantage of putting us back on our heels and got to the offensive zone. Their power play goes three for four, so that’s a big part of the game, but it wasn’t the only part. They forced us into those spots and came at us aggressively, and six [goals] against us is certainly something to be concerned about.”