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Pens Need Jordan Staal And Skill Players To Produce For Game Six

When it comes to scoring and production in the playoffs, the unexpected is about what you should expect. Like how Craig Adams can go 82 regular season games without scoring a goal, but then pop in a goal in the very first playoff game, as he did last season. Or Arron Asham scoring only four goals all season long this year, but then going out and getting three goals in this playoff series.

Crazy things can happen in short series and the seemingly unlikely events happen more frequently than observers expect.

But if the Pittsburgh Penguins don't get their top guns on the board, they are going to be in trouble closing out the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Take Jordan Staal - zero goals and two assists five games into his first playoff series as the marquee player on the team. That production is not going to cut it. Staal does have 13 shots on goal, but 10 of those came in two games - he's got just one shot a piece in the three other games.

Mark Letestu, nominally classified as the number-one center, has zero goals and one assist. It's hard to believe, but the team famous for strength down the middle, with legendary players like Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, now has top two centers (Staal and Letestu) combining for zero goals and three assists through the first five games of the playoffs. That's a bitter pill to take, but the blame hardly ends there.

Chris Kunitz, twice a productive Stanley Cup winner, is in a similar drought - he's got one goal and no assists in four games, missing one game of course due to a suspension for elbowing Simon Gagne in the head. That's an atrocious playoff so far personally for him.

James Neal, who's fighting through an injury, has one goal and one assist in five games. Granted, the goal was of huge importance in double overtime, but Pittsburgh will need more from him. Alex Kovalev, Neal's frequent linemate, also has one goal and one assist in playoff action. For a guy who's playing to show he still belongs in the NHL, Kovalev's time seems to be running out.

Kris Letang hasn't scored a goal since February 11, a span of 30 games. He hasn't scored an even-strength goal in 43 games, dating back to January 10. The Pens need him to play solid defense, but he's also the most talented puck-handler on the team and is going to have to hit the net sooner than later to keep the season going.

Those six players are the most skilled and vital pieces of the Penguins offense, and right now they're being out-produced by guys like Asham, Mike Rupp and Max Talbot. Already down Crosby and Malkin, Pittsburgh can't expect to win many games with their other best players not coming through on the scoreboard. Game 6 will be a huge test, and mark these words: if the six guys highlighted above can produce goals and lead the way, the Pens will win tonight in Tampa.

If they remain silent, this series is likely heading back to Pittsburgh for a decisive seventh game.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.