The injuries just keep piling up for the Penguins.
Forward Patric Hornqvist is the latest player added to the injured list as head coach Mike Sullivan announced on Tuesday that the veteran forward will be sidelined “longer term” with a lower-body injury that he sustained in practice on Monday.
Schultz returned to practice in a non-contact jersey on Tuesday but is not quite yet ready to return to the lineup.
The injury situation is so absurd right now that you could assemble a five-man lineup (Crosby, Rust, and Hornqvist at forward; Dumoulin and Schultz on defense) that looks better on paper than almost any other five-man unit the team can actually use on the ice.
The Penguins are back in action on Wednesday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues (NBCSN, 8 p.m. ET), a white-hot team that has won four in a row and just defeated the Penguins 5-2 over the weekend.
If someone told you that the Pittsburgh Penguins exploded for 14 goals in just two games on back-to-back nights, you might have assumed that key players like Evgeni Malkin returned to action. Failing that, maybe you’d ask if Sidney Crosby had been superhuman.
While Crosby was indeed fantastic during Saturday’s 7-4 win against the Wild (good enough to be one of the three stars on a busy day) and Sunday’s stunning 7-2 drubbing of the Jets, it wasn’t all him. Instead, it was a combination of a red-hot Crosby and a seemingly ragtag group of players coming together.
You can see the highlights of Sunday’s win in the video above, and check out Saturday’s score-fest against Minnesota here:
Pittsburgh’s games against the Jets seem to be all about subverting expectations. Earlier this season, Winnipeg won despite a ton of injuries to their defense; this time around, expectations were that Pittsburgh’s list of ailments would mean bad things, but instead the Pens won. In each case, the results were remarkably lopsided, too.
87 is on fire
Crosby’s strong play should not go unnoticed.
With two assists against Winnipeg, Crosby now has a three-game multi-point streak going, generating two goals and four assists for six points during that streak. The 32-year-old’s also scored at least one point during his first six games of 2019-20, collecting three goals and seven assists to total 10 points.
If the star center is slowing down with age, you have to really strain your eyes to see where he’s in heavy decline.
Not just Crosby
That said, 10 of those 14 goals didn’t involve Crosby points, so obviously it’s not just 87.
Sam Lafferty’s arguably had an even better weekend than Crosby. The 24-year-old is rapidly becoming more than a relative unknown who was a fourth-rounder (113th overall) from 2014. Lafferty scored two goals on Sunday after generating a three-point night (his first NHL goal, plus two assists) against the Wild on Saturday. So, yes, Lafferty generated five points to Crosby’s four on the weekend.
Managing five points in less than 27 minutes of total ice time is just kind of ridiculous, and ventures an argument that the Penguins should give Lafferty more opportunities to prove himself, particularly as injuries linger for more prominent players.
Lafferty: "Three wins in a row and playing a bit, it's been great. It's been really fun. I'm just playing, and right now, pucks are going in, so you want to ride that out as much as you can."
Zach Aston-Reese made an argument for player of the game on Sunday, though, generating a three-point night against the Jets (two goals, one assist).
It’s a testament to the Penguins’ knack for finding the occasional gems in the draft or in free agency, as for all we know, all of those injuries might open the door for someone to be a more regular contributor. Such a thing happened for Matt Murray, and to some extent, Jake Guentzel.
Speaking of finding ways to win, judging from this Natural Stat Trick heat map, you wonder if the Penguins might have scouted out a weak spot for Laurent Brossoit, attacked an especially weak spot of Winnipeg’s defense, or maybe it was just a coincidence that so many chances and goals came from the same general area?
One wouldn’t expect the lesser-known Penguins to stay so hot for too long, but little bursts like these can make a difference between missing or making the playoffs, or for a team with greater ambitions like Pittsburgh, maybe earning a round or two of home-ice advantage. Piling up points in games that look like losses on paper may also help the Penguins gain enough breathing room to give Crosby some rest down the line. As great as Crosby was in 2018-19 (with his underlying stats inspiring some to wonder if he deserved more Hart buzz), there were signs that he was wearing down for a Pittsburgh team that needed to battle to make the postseason. In an era of sports where teams are more interested in “load management,” the Penguins might want to work a little harder to earn that luxury for Crosby and others.
Either way, the Penguins are showing some moxy, so don’t count them out when they face the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday (a game you can watch on NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET).