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Evgeni Malkin Out With Injury, Penguins Depth Gets Major Test

Jan 19, 2011 – 3:56 PM
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Adam Gretz

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Over the past four years the Pittsburgh Penguins have constructed their lineup around what has arguably been the best collection of centers in the NHL: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. When all three are in the lineup, there's not many -- if any -- teams in the league that can match up with them down the middle. So far this season, the Penguins haven't had the luxury of having all three in the lineup together as all of them have missed games at various times.

Staal missed the first half of the season with a foot injury that was quickly followed by a broken hand, while Crosby has missed more than a week after suffering a concussion. Malkin has also missed a handful of games this season, and will miss the Penguins next game on Thursday against New Jersey -- and possibly more -- with what coach Dan Bylsma described as the always popular undisclosed injury.

Said Bylsma, via Sam Kasan at the Penguins website, "We've had games with just Sid, and we've had games with just Geno. And now we're going to go with just Jordan."

And also: "Well we're going to be recalling a player to fill the void. It's going to be power-play minutes and a center position. It's going to be a bit of a challenge. Mark Letestu is going to have to play a bigger role. Chris Conner and lots of guys are going to have to play more minutes to fill the void of the 20 minutes and the position that Geno plays for us on the ice."

Because the Penguins have so much of their cap space invested in their top-three pivots (Crosby, Malkin and Staal combine to take up over $21 million of the Penguins cap space) they've had to piece together a group of forwards that includes role players, grinders and under-the-radar youngsters (quality over quantity). With Crosby and Malkin, the two most dangerous offensive weapons on the roster, out of the lineup for the short-term, it's certainly going to give their depth a test.

Malkin is currently in the middle of his least productive season in the NHL, tallying 15 goals and 22 assists through 42 games. Even with his lower point totals, the Penguins are still tied for the fifth highest goals-per-game average in the NHL. A lot of that, however, is due to the dominant season Crosby is having. Without Crosby, the Penguins have scored 15 goals in six games, though, they have won three in a row.

The attention now goes to Staal and his six points in eight games since returning to the lineup, as well as forwards Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Tyler Kennedy, Mark Letestu and Matt Cooke. Not exactly the group you would want making up your top-six over the course of an 82-game season, but it's what the Penguins have for the short-term. They'll have to rely on Staal, as well as a strong defense (combined with an early-season turnaround from goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury) that's helped limit teams to just 2.30 goals per game (second lowest in the league).
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