Isn’t it funny how much can change in one week? Last week the Steelers were 6-2 and people around town were ready to buy their airplane ticket to Dallas for the Super Bowl. Last week the Penguins found themselves in a rough spot with their Goalie situation and the fans wanted Marc-Andre Fleury and Coach Dan Bylsma out of town. A week later, the Steelers lose a game to the Patriots, who are tied for the best record in football and fans are going crazy and in panic mode, while Fleury has played very well, earning the fans trust back, for now that is until he gives up 3 goals and then the ‘fans’ want him gone again. So with the Pens not losing any of their past five games and the Steelers being slowed down by injuries, that brings the question, who is more poised to make a championship run this year? Will the Steelers be able to overcome the injuries and get their offense in gear? Or is it the Pens who seem to finally be able to build a level of comfort with each other?
Through the first four games of the season, the Steeler’s Defense was able to carry the team to a 3-1 mark, and I’m still waiting on the Offense to step up and win a game for the team. With the Offensive Line in shambles and a Defense that is getting mauled with injuries, how much longer will the Black and Yellow be able to hold up? Just 9 games in, and significant injuries have already affected the team and forced them to play with the hand they were dealt. The Offensive Line has always been horrible, but when you have Jonathan Scott and Ramon starting on the left side, things couldn’t get much worse. Hines Ward importance to this team was shown last week when he got knocked out with a concussion. No one was able to step up and I question while he is talented, will Mike Wallace ever be able to shed the speed receiver niche and turn into an elite receiver? Whether we want to admit it or not, Hines won’t play forever and someone needs to take over that Number One Receiver role.
On the Defensive side of the ball, injuries to Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel have significantly hurt the line. Keisel has felt fine in practice but just can’t get it going in the games and Smith, in my opinion, has played his last down in the NFL. Polamalu hasn’t been the standout player as we have seen in years past but that’s because LeBeau has decided to make Lawrence Timmons the rover this season. The corner play as a whole has been average at best. LeBeau is one of the greatest defensive minds of all time and he will figure things out and Tomlin will get the Offense together and overcome the odds. What we have to realize is that they are 6-3, not 3-6 and while there is reason for concern, there is no reason for panic. I bet Lions and Bills fans would love to be in the situation that the Steelers are in right now.
As for the Penguins, they find themselves at 11-8-2 so far on the season and like their gridiron counterparts, found themselves with a lot of injury concerns. Most notably is the waiting game that continues to go on with Forward Jordan Staal who just can’t catch a break. First the foot infection and just as he is set to return, he breaks his hand during practice. Second, is the return of the offseason acquisition, Defenseman Zybenek Michalek who seems to finally be getting back to form. As previously mentioned, Fleury looks to be the Goalie of old and is playing solid in net. The biggest flaw of this team is the horrid Powerplay. All the talent on the ice and they just can’t connect. Paul Martin is getting his shot to run the unit now and it looks as if Bylsma is putting Sidney Crosby down around the net where he is most dangerous. They rank 25th in the league at 13.5%. The opposite special teams is 4th in the league killing the oppositions powerplay 88.5% of the time.
Bylsma has the right idea with pairing Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang on a line and Paul Martin with Michalek. They seem to be gaining a connection with each other and are holding things down in front of Fleury. Playing the Winter Classic at home will be advantageous to the Penguins is they can capitalize off of it to gain momentum for the second half of the year.
If the Penguins are able to remain healthy and get Staal back to 100%, I believe that they will have a better opportunity to make a run then the Steelers will. The Steelers have just suffered to many injuries and the time table for a lot of them, do not look good. I still believe they will make the playoffs and even advance past the Wild Card Round. The Steelers always seem to figure out a way to put it together and make it work so who knows, they thrive off the underdog feeling. Ray Shero has a track record for bringing people in at the trade deadline to help out the Penguins and they have mostly all worked (Alexei Ponikarovsky anyone?). If Shero is able to grab a winger like Petr Prucha from the Coyotes, Vaclav Prospal from the Rangers or dare I say Bill Guerin at the deadline to put with Malkin, then the Pens could be looking at another deep run into late Spring. If Fleury can maintain is play as of late, then the Steelers could be playing second fiddle to the Penguins this year in the Burgh.
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About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com