Depth makes or breaks any team in any league. An organization could have some of the best talent in the world on the first or second lines. However, when those guys are off the ice, they need to be able to rely on the depth to hold the fort down. In the case of the Pittsburgh Penguins, they’ve been without arguably their best bottom-six forward, and it’s shown.
Teddy Blueger has been one of the more consistent players on the Penguins roster, but not for the reason anybody would expect. Blueger isn’t known for scoring goals or putting up many points. However, he is known for him immaculate defensive play. As a two-way forward, he’s expected to be able to contribute to both the offensive and defensive zones. Needless to say, he does that exceptionally well.
The 27-year-old center was having a career year this season. In the 40 games Blueger has played this season, he has eight goals and 17 points. He was on pace to shatter his old career-high of 22 points he finished within both of the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons. His defensive play is what puts him on the map, though. As a result, he’s been the bread and butter of the penalty-killing unit for quite some time now.
He was the main reason that Pittsburgh had the No. 1 penalty kill percentage in the league. Unfortunately, Blueger was injured in a game against the Winnipeg Jets Jan. 23. Defenseman Brenden Dillon hit Blueger high, shattering his jaw. He underwent a successful surgery, but he will be out until at least March 8. The team since then has struggled.
How’ve They Been Doing?
Since losing Blueger, the Penguins have had a record of 5-3-3. While this may not be a direct correlation, what is a correlation to Blueger’s absence is the performance of the penalty-killing unit. It’s been obvious that they’ve struggled immensely. Without the right player at the helm, it’s hard to regain the traction that they’ve had all season long.
Jeff Carter has taken Blueger’s place on the penalty kill with Brock McGinn and, to say the least, they’ve struggled. The real struggle lies with the second line, consisting of Brian Boyle and Zach Aston-Reese. It seems, more often than not, they are being scored on at will. It could be an incredible coincidence, or it could be the effect that Blueger’s absence has on the bottom-six.
What’s unfortunate is that there are plenty of games left before Blueger’s estimated return. The third and fourth lines have been scrambled up, including the separation of McGinn and Aston-Reese. What is clear is that the team needs to tighten up their defensive play. Granted, it’s going to be difficult to do that without Blueger, but it needs to happen. Otherwise, it’ll be hard to win any games when the opposition can repeatedly fire goal after goal.
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