Zbynek Michalek, right, broke his finger Saturday and will miss four to six weeks. He will not require surgery.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Zbynek Michalek wasn't having a gangbusters start to the season, save for being part of a near-perfect penalty-killing squad.
Things took a turn for the worse for the Penguins defenseman Saturday when a point-blank slap shot taken by New Jersey's Rod Pelley felled Michalek and left him with a broken finger on his right hand.
That happened with 9:18 left in regulation. It was Michalek's team-leading 17th blocked shot, but it will be his last for a while.
Coach Dan Bylsma said Monday that Michalek won't need surgery but will miss four to six weeks, making him just the latest in a long list of Penguins regulars who have been hurt this season or last.
Game: Penguins at Islanders.
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.
TV: Root Sports.
"We definitely could use a little luck in the injury department," said defenseman Matt Niskanen, whose ice time, along with that of Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland, figures to go up, beginning with a game tonight against the Islanders in New York.
The Penguins on Saturday were playing their first game with their top seven defensemen available, with Lovejoy being the odd man out in of the lineup for the 4-1 win. Top offensive defenseman Kris Letang returned that night after serving a two-game suspension, and heavy-hitting defenseman Brooks Orpik was playing his second game since offseason abdominal surgery.
And that doesn't take into account the fact that star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been out.
Crosby, who hasn't played since Jan. 5 because of a concussion, is getting closer to a return, but he did not make the trip to New York. Malkin has missed the past five games and seven of the past 10 because of soreness in his surgically repaired right knee. He has been practicing, traveled to New York and could play tonight, Bylsma said.
It doesn't appear that the Penguins will promote someone from their Wilkes-Barre/Scranton minor league team to serve as a seventh defenseman in the short term.
Michalek, 27, who signed with the Penguins as a free agent in July 2010, has one goal, three points and is tied for a team-worst plus-minus rating of minus-5. Until his injury, his low point was falling after the opening faceoff Oct. 17, leading to a Minnesota goal in a 2-1 Penguins loss.
"I'm pretty sure his minus isn't where he wants it to be, but he has had a pretty heavy load of [being on the ice with] the other teams' best players and a lot of minutes doing so," Bylsma said. "That maybe hasn't worked out for him, but he's done a pretty good job for us, and the penalty kill has been exceptional."
Bylsma said Orpik will slide back into a familiar role as one of the first defensemen on the ice when the Penguins are short-handed, and said Lovejoy and Letang could see more time killing penalties.
In his time with the Penguins, Michalek has almost always been on the ice with Paul Martin at even strength in a shut-down role. Martin joined the Penguins at the same time.
"We're going to have to fill that void both in the shut-down pair and penalty kill-wise," Bylsma said.
At practice Monday, Martin was paired with Letang, Orpik with Engelland and Niskanen with Lovejoy.
"I think you develop a certain level of comfort when you spend that much time paired with a certain guy," Martin said. "You start to realize where they're going to be and what they're going to do.
"But I think the way that we play, it's OK to be playing with other guys. Me, personally, it doesn't matter who I play with. It's a good group of guys, and they all can play."
Niskanen agreed that the defensemen left standing will close ranks. "We still will have six good defensemen," he said.
Last season, the defensemen remained relatively healthy while injuries decimated the team at forward. This season, there doesn't seem to be a pattern. Also missing time because of injury have been forwards Dustin Jeffrey (knee surgery) and Tyler Kennedy (concussion). Kennedy remains out.
The Penguins have rallied well, earning 14 of a possible 20 points. A fully healthy lineup could make them downright dangerous.
"Hopefully, at some time during this year, we get one," Martin said. "But the guys have been doing a good job handling injuries. Guys have stepped up and filled in. I guess it would be nice to get everyone back."