Ron Cook: Penguins give right response to Crosby injury


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You knew the New York Islanders weren't going to feel sorry for the Penguins. So what that the Penguins lost captain Sidney Crosby during the first shift Saturday after Crosby took a puck in the mouth and ended up in the hospital for oral surgery? So what that they lost star winger Chris Kunitz late in the second period after he put Islanders center Josh Bailey into the boards and was given a five-minute checking-from-behind penalty and a game misconduct? So what that the Penguins showed up at Consol Energy Center in the morning and learned they would be without defenseman Paul Martin for at least six weeks with what's believed to be a broken left wrist or hand? So what that they knew they wouldn't have defenseman Kris Letang, out for another few days with what's thought to be a broken toe, and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who wasn't quite ready to play because of a neck injury? The Islanders weren't going to ease up. They are a desperate hockey club, fighting for a playoff spot. They kept coming after the Penguins, wave after relentless wave.

What was important is that the Penguins didn't feel sorry for themselves.

Penguins 2, Islanders 0.

The winning streak is at 15 games with no end in sight.

"We're never going to feel sorry for ourselves," said forward Craig Adams, one of the many stars in the win. "We've still got a lot of great players in here. Obviously, not having those guys makes the task tougher because they're great players who have helped us win a lot of hockey games. But we're still pretty confident that, even if we're without one or two, we can still play our game and win."

One or two?

How about five?

An All-Star team, really.

"Hopefully, most of those guys won't be out too long so we don't have to find out how we do without them," Adams said.

The time line has been set, relatively speaking, for Martin and Letang. A year ago, many people would have cheered Martin's injury. It's a tribute to him that those same people worry now about how the Penguins will do without him. Fleury should be fine for the home game Tuesday night against the Buffalo Sabres. Kunitz could be suspended for his hit on Bailey, although the feeling among Penguins management was that the game misconduct will satisfy the NHL office.

The concern is about Crosby.

The Islanders' Brad Boyes deflected a slap shot by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik into Crosby's mouth. Crosby went down, gushing blood, but quickly bounced up and skated to the bench and locker room.

"I saw the replay and it looked like he lost sight of the puck," Adams said. "He didn't even try to get out of the way."

It's natural to think broken jaw or concussion when you see such a horrible thing. It's especially easy to fret about Crosby, whose history of head and neck injuries has been well-documented.

Penguins officials had no update on Crosby's condition even 2 1/2 hours after the game.

"Hopefully, it's just a couple of teeth and nothing more," Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton said.

Crosby should consider taking the day off the next time the Penguins play the Islanders. He took a puck to the face when the teams played Feb. 5 on Long Island, needing six stitches in his left nostril. He took another puck in the face and had his nose bloodied in a game March 29, 2012, on Long Island.

This time, Crosby didn't return.

What a crying shame it will be if Crosby has to miss much playing time. He is running away with the NHL scoring title with 56 points.

"I can't imagine the guy playing better than he's been playing," Adams said. "He's been great, and his line has been great."

"He's been amazing," Penguins winger Matt Cooke said of Crosby. "The puck just seems to stay with him wherever he goes. Even when he loses it, he gets it back. It really is amazing."

You want to talk amazing?

How about how things often work out in sports?

After the Penguins traded for winger Jarome Iginla Thursday, there was much public angst about how coach Dan Bylsma would use him. Some people screamed Iginla should go on Crosby's line. Others yelled he belonged with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.

Bylsma put Iginla with Malkin and Neal, choosing to leave the Kunitz-Crosby-Pascal Dupuis line -- the best in hockey this season -- alone. Neal scored the second goal against the Islanders, his 18th of the season but his first goal in 10 games.

And what happens to the Crosby line?

Crosby gets hurt and Kunitz gets thrown out of the game.

Amazing.

The same thing happened with the Penguins defensemen.

When Douglas Murray was acquired from the San Jose Sharks Monday, the team seemed to have too many. Then, Martin got hurt blocking a shot against the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night, joining Letang on the injury list. The Penguins needed Deryk Engelland and Simon Despres against the Islanders. Those guys helped goaltender Tomas Vokoun pitch the team's third consecutive shutout.

The Penguins also needed Eaton, as it turned out.

Eaton, Adams and Cooke were on the ice for all 1:55 of a 5-on-3 advantage that the Islanders had, starting late in the second period and carrying into the third. The Islanders' power play -- No. 1 in the league on the road -- managed just one shot on Vokoun.

The arena rocked.

Not long after that, Cooke scored the winning goal and the Penguins had what might have been their most satisfying win of the streak.

"In the playoffs, you're not going to have everyone healthy at the same time," Eaton said. "It's good to win with different lineups. I think that bodes well for us."

"It makes you a better hockey team," Cooke said. "But, really, what else are you supposed to do? It doesn't matter who you have or who you don't have.

"You still have to show up and play."

And, in the Penguins' case, win.

mobilehome - roncook

First Published March 31, 2013 4:00 AM


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