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Weathering the storm - 01-09-12

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

These are bleak times for the Penguins.

With potential all-stars such as Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, James Neal and Jordan Staal (above) sidelined, things aren't looking too good.

But that doesn't equate to a lost season.

Here are six people who can help them weather the storm:

1.) Follow Fleury

When things got bad last season in regards to injures, the Penguins started winning games with 3-2 scores instead of 4-3. Marc-Andre Fleury was largely responsible for that.

Fleury is never going to be someone like Martin Brodeur who just systematically shuts down every scoring attempt an opponent puts on net and racks up sexy save percentage numbers. He's more of a Grant Fuhr. A franchise goaltender who will make that one save which makes the difference in a game whether is 6-5 or 2-1.

Fleury has had a mostly strong season but has had a few hiccups in recent weeks. If he can level out, he's the biggest reason the Penguins will remain a playoff team.

2.) Dynamic duo

The second biggest reason for the Penguins' transformation into a successful low-scoring squad last season was the defensive pairing of Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. They routinely drew assignments against opposing team's top lines and more often than not, they shut them down.

This season, injuries and inconsistent play have hurt Martin and Michalek. Martin has been turnover prone while Michalek has struggled to stay healthy.

Both are back in the lineup and once again, they're teamed together.

The Penguins need them to regain the form they displayed last year. They need Martin and Michalek to do what the Rangers' pairing of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh did to the Penguins' top line last Friday.

Shut it down.

3.) Kennedy's chance

The injuries the Penguins endured last season crippled the team's once vaunted offense. Particularly on the power play.

In stepped Tyler Kennedy.

Given an elevated role as a top-six forward, Kennedy broke through with 21 goals, including seven on the power play.

This season, a concussion sidelined Kennedy for 11 games and a relatively healthy run among the top-six wingers before this weekend's events limited Kennedy's potential ice time with the power play. With Neal now sidelined, Kennedy chances with the man advantage are bound to increase.

Kennedy might be a frustrating player on occasion. Watching him pound slap shot after slap shot into a goaltender's chest can get old. But he showed he can deliver when pressed into service last season.

He needs to do it again.

4.) Tangradi's time

In four NHL games this season, Eric Tangradi has managed to average 10:23 of ice time while primarily playing on the fourth line.

The coaching staff needs to offer him more time in an elevated role.

And Tangradi needs to show he deserves it.

Even with a healthy roster, Tangradi offers something this teams needs in a big way. A net front presence. It's no coincidence the last two power-play goals the Penguins scored in 2010-11, postseason included, came with his big frame in front of the goaltender.

But the ice is much larger than the area in front of the blue paint. And Dan Bylsma likes to use all 200 feet of it. He demands his players, regardless of their skill set, play in all three zones.

To be kind, Tangradi has not shown he can do that consistently in his few cups of coffee at the NHL level.

The Penguins need him to play a complete game.

5.) Last man standing

This isn't anything new for Evgeni Malkin. He's had to pick this team up before, oftentimes with resounding success. When Sidney Crosby missed two months due to a high ankle sprain in 2007-08, Malkin nearly won a scoring title.

But things are little different however.

Malkin has found chemistry this season with Neal. With Neal sidelined, Malkin's chances will be somewhat limited.

And with Neal, Crosby and Letang absent from the power play, Malkin becomes the primary focal point of opposing penalty kills.

Life will be tough for Malkin the next several weeks. He'll have less space to work with on the ice. He face top defensive pairings and shutdown centers almost ever shift.

But his salary cap hit, track record and skill set demand that he find a way to steer this team through this storm.

(Photo: Staal and Fleury-Christian Petersen/Getty Images; Martin and Michalek-Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/Getty Images; Kennedy-Jamie Sabau/Getty Images; Tangradi-Jim McIsaac/Getty Images; Malkin-Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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