Injuries are part of hockey, any fan or player will tell you that. If there’s one NHL team/ fanbase that can attest to that, it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have been without Steven Stamkos (blood clot) for the entire postseason, and have also had to prevail through stints without Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Tyler Johnson, while currently being without goaltender Ben Bishop (leg). Now, the cards have seemed to flip in the Eastern Conference Finals, as Pittsburgh’s Trevor Daley will reportedly miss the remainder of the 2016 postseason after suffering a broken left ankle in game four on Friday night.
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) May 22, 2016
The loss of Trevor Daley is very significant for the Penguins, as Daley was one of the team leaders in ice time (averaged 22:08 per game this postseason), and played on both the Penguins powerplay and penalty kill units. Since being acquired from Chicago in a trade earlier in the season, Daley has worked extremely well on the Penguins’ top defensive pairing with the team’s top two-way blue-liner, Kristopher Letang. With Daley now out for the remainder of the playoffs, the Penguins will be forced to rely on the services of Olli Maata (will likely be paired with Letang as the team’s new top defensive pairing), Brian Dumoulin, Ben Lovejoy, Ian Cole, and Justin Schultz. The open defensive spot will more than likely be filled by the Pens’ seventh defenseman, Derrick Pouliot, who has been scratched in favor of the veteran Daley for the entire postseason thus far.
Good goaltending wins championships, but a solid defensive core is what allows teams to make deep playoff runs (prime example in the last half decade being the Chicago Blackhawks). The Pittsburgh Penguins certainly did not enter the 2016 postseason with the league’s best defensive core, but the addition of Trevor Daley has proved to be a key piece to this team in all three areas of the ice, and his play has helped the Pens to being just two wins away from a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals. Losing a strong veteran two-way defenseman like Trevor Daley who worked extremely well with the team’s franchise defenseman in Kristopher Letang is an absolute killer for the Penguins. Olli Maata or whoever else slides into that top defensive pairing spot will certainly have their hands full with Tampa’s triplets, but it will be even more interesting to see as to whom takes over on Pittsburgh’s special teams. The Penguins have an almost endless amount of skilled forwards who are deserving of power play time and could be placed on the point during the man advantage but finding a viable replacement for Trevor Daley on the penalty kill is going to be tough. Ian Cole and Kristopher Letang will likely be Pittsburgh’s first defensive penalty kill unit now that Daley is done for the season, but the second unit is an absolute mystery. It’s hard to see the Pittsburgh Penguins putting the fate of a late-game penalty in the postseason in the hands of a young and inexperienced player such as Derrick Pouliot, and the same can even be said for Brian Dumoulin. Head coach Mike Sullivan will most likely be forced to go with Ben Lovejoy and Justin Schultz on the PK whenever Letang and Cole need a breather, and that may not be all that often.
In all, the loss of Trevor Daley may not seem like the biggest deal due to his lack of star status, but his presence on Pittsburgh’s top defensive pairing and as one of the team’s leaders on special teams is going to be missed dearly. It will now be up to the Pens’ youngsters on the blueline to carry the weight left behind by Daley. Speedy recovery for Trevor Daley, and hopefully, the Penguins can find a way to win one of these next two games to ensure that this bout with Tampa goes to a seventh game, where anything can happen.