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What’s the effect of Staal’s injury on Penguins?

Staal1.jpgPittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens 2:00 p.m. EDT, 2 May, 2010 Live on NBC

Don’t forget, we’ll have a live chat during the game on Pro Hockey Talk at 1:45 p.m. EDT.

While the exact timeframe surrounding the eventual return of Jordan Staal is unknown -- no matter what coach Dan Bylsma may say -- we do know that Staal had surgery on a severed tendon in his foot and will not be playing for the Penguins for at least the next few games.

This makes for an interesting challenge for the Penguins, who have been able to have so much success the past few seasons based on their incredible depth down the middle. Staal plays the role of the third line center for the Penguins and is perhaps the best penalty killing forward on the team.

While he’s just a third line forward, he plays just about the same minutes as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and is routinely put on the ice by Bylsma in critical defensive situations. For a player who is likely forgotten at times while the focus is on other stars on the team, he is incredible important to the Pittsburgh Penguins?

So what now for Pittsburgh, as they try and make their way back to the finals for the third straight year? Replacing Staal isn’t just about filling in for his defensive play, it’s about finding the production that Staal provided. This isn’t something the Penguins are used to either, as he’s played in 383 of the past 384 games since coming to the NHL.

Behind Crosby and Malkin, he’s become a routine 20-goal, 50-point forward who has honed his defensive skill; not exactly something a team can replace with just one player stepping up.

Maxime Talbot is likely going to be asked to take over the third line duties at center, as his play has certainly picked up after the team entered the postseason. He has the skill to at produce at level near what’s been expected of Staal, although he’s never been asked to play the kind of minutes Staal is known for.

Craig Adams will likely see more time on the penalty kill, which is where the Penguins will certainly miss Staal the most. On a team with Crosby and Malkin, finding extra offensive production -- in the short term -- is not as scary a proposition as it would be on other teams. It’s rare that a third line forward goes down with injury and a team has to scramble to replace him; this isn’t a case where just one player can step up and replace what Staal meant to this team.

If Staal misses more than just this series, losing what has made the Penguins so successful -- their depth -- will certainly make repeating that much harder.