In one way, Bill Guerin’s back spasms came at an opportune time for Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma: He hasn’t yet had to make a tough choice regarding which forward to scratch when all are healthy.
But he will.
So, what do you do with Max Talbot?
Talbot has just one goal in 32 games. Just four assists. He’s minus-3. Whether it’s because of injury or rust, Talbot clearly isn’t the same player and shows very few signs of returning to last year’s form. He’ll never skate with Evgeni Malkin again, at least not this season; that’s going to be Alexei Ponikarovsky and Ruslan Fedotenko, with the latter playing well now that March has arrived.
It’s hard to bench Craig Adams – right-handed face-off guy, good PK. It’s hard to sit Mike Rupp – a legitimate physical presence, versatile and having a career year statistically. Speaking of career years, how do you scratch Pascal Dupuis? No one wants to change that third line despite the struggles of Tyler Kennedy (no goals in 16 games).
So, I ask again: What do you do with Max Talbot? Can he play his way back to form? If so, who sits while he tries?
Me, I play Max. I have faith. His performance during last year’s playoffs was too dynamic.
Rotate players in and out. The top two lines plus Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke are untouchable. Give the rest equal chance, and the strongest survive. (Kennedy shouldn’t be immune. He’s played well in the past, but right now he’s flying high on borrowed wings. A third line of Staal and Cooke with Talbot or Dupuis might actually be better.)
It’s a nice problem to have. Fringe players generally do their best when they’re looking over their shoulders. Competing is what enabled them to make it in the first place, more so than talent in most cases.
I feel bad for Talbot. He can’t help it that he’s been injured. But the team can’t help it, either.