In a season rife with injury, the Pittsburgh Penguins have now lost one of their biggest stars.
Evgeni Malkin has suffered a foot injury that will sideline him for the next 2-3 weeks, head coach Dan Bylsma confirmed on Tuesday. The news comes two days after Malkin logged huge minutes in Sunday’s 1-0 loss to St. Louis, playing 24:32 while firing a game-high seven shots on goal — even though Malkin got hurt on his first shift, per Bylsma.
As mentioned above, this is just the latest in a long line of injuries to hit the Penguins this year. They’ve dealt with bad health all season and are currently without the services of Kris Letang, Pascal Dupuis, Tomas Vokoun, Paul Martin, Beau Bennett and Chris Conner, all of whom are on IR.
That said, the timing of this latest setback isn’t so bad.
Pittsburgh doesn’t have an awful lot to play for — they’ve all but wrapped up the Metropolitan Division already and, according to Sports Club Stats, have a 97 percent chance of finishing as the East’s No. 2 seed behind Boston — so it’s possible Malkin is being shut down (for what looks to be the duration of the regular season) as a potential precautionary measure.
The injury will also give some lesser lights the opportunity for extended minutes at center. Brandon Sutter and Marcel Goc become the No. 2 and 3 middle men in Malkin’s absence.
Pittsburgh forward James Neal has been diagnosed with a concussion, according to Pens head coach Dan Bylsma.
Neal, who missed eight games last season with a concussion, didn’t participate in the last two Pittsburgh practices while getting checked over by team doctors.
Yesterday, Bylsma said both Neal and Kunitz were “dealing with bumps and bruises.” Kunitz was shaken up during Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Washington, a game in which Neal played 14:53 but only took four shifts in the third period for 3:05 of ice time.
The 26-year-old winger will be held out of the Pens lineup indefinitely and will miss this weekend’s home-and-home set against the Flyers.
Neal has 22 goals and 49 points in 44 games this season, one that has already seen him miss extensive time to an upper-body injury (15 games) and suspension (five games).
The Neal concussion is also another health setback for Pittsburgh to endure. The club is already without the services of defensemen Paul Martin (broken hand) and Kris Letang (stroke) and, earlier this season, lost forward Pascal Dupuis for the year with a torn ACL.
Beau Bennett, Chris Conner and Tomas Vokoun are also currently on injured reserve.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are returning to health.
On Monday, club appeared primed to make two significant strides towards a full lineup, as defenseman Paul Martin — who’s been out since November — and forward James Neal sounded as though they’d make their returns against Florida.
Here’s the situation on Martin, from NHL.com:
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said three injured Penguins will return against Florida but did not specify which three. He said the returning players will give the Penguins eight healthy defensemen, indicating Martin, who has missed 23 games with a broken tibia, will return.
Although Martin was paired with Brooks Orpik at the morning skate, Bylsma said Martin will be eased into the lineup.
As for Neal, he declared himself “ready to go” after sitting out last Wednesday’s 4-3 win over Washington. Even though he only missed one game, Neal actually hasn’t played in nine days as the Pens are in the midst of one of the lightest parts of their schedule (Neal last played on Jan. 11 versus Calgary.)
Neal skated alongside usual linemates Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen this morning. Fellow forwards Jayson Megna and Chuck Kobasew also took the morning skate after missing time with lower-body injuries (six games missed for Kobasew, 13 for Megna.)
Should all these players return tonight, it’ll leave Pittsburgh with just seven players out to injury: Pascal Dupuis, Beau Bennett, Chris Conner, Andrew Ebbett, Brian Gibbons, Joe Vitale and Tomas Vokoun.
Related: Pens’ Dupuis to have ACL surgery Feb. 12