Penguins bench Malkin due to shoulder strain


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Coach Dan Bylsma, general manager Ray Shero and All-Star center Evgeni Malkin emerged from a closed-door meeting after practice yesterday at Mellon Arena with news of the latest injury problem for a Penguins team that so far hasn't been slowed because of missing players.

Malkin, it turns out, played the past several games -- including a 6-1 win Wednesday against Montreal in which he took six shots and registered an assist -- despite a strained right shoulder. Team officials persuaded him to shut down for what Bylsma called "a couple weeks."

"We're worried about the safety in the shoulder," Bylsma said. "A couple weeks, some rehab, some rest, we'll get that thing ready so we can get him back on the ice."


Today

Game: Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:08 p.m. today, Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).

Probable goaltenders: Brent Johnson for Penguins. Steve Mason for Blue Jackets.

Penguins: Are 5-0 on road. ... C Sidney Crosby among the league leaders with 50 shots. ... D Alex Goligoski tied for NHL lead at plus-11 before last night.

Blue Jackets: Are 4-6 all time vs. Penguins, 3-2 at home. ... Have not played an Eastern team this season. ... RW Rick Nash has two short-handed goals, tied for league lead before last night.

Hidden stat: Columbus has not gone past regulation this season.


Malkin, who is tied with center Sidney Crosby for the team scoring lead with 14 points, resisted at first but acknowledged that this was the best way to handle the situation.

"It's OK. It's not the pain. I don't feel comfortable now," said Malkin, who last season was the NHL regular-season and playoff scoring champion and the playoff MVP in helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup.

"The team is playing good. It's early in the season. It's fine. Just two weeks is OK. I feel good, and it's not a big problem."

With Malkin out, Bylsma said, center Jordan Staal's ice time will increase, most likely on the power play.

"We talk about the strength of our centermen, and people talk about Jordan Staal being a second centerman on another team," Bylsma said. "That's the strength of our team, and we're fortunate we have some depth at that position.

"We have enough quality forwards that we should be able to play a little bit differently, but we still should be all right."

The Penguins recalled forward Chris Conner from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He is expected to be in Columbus for tonight's game against the Blue Jackets. Conner, who had played in 71 games for Dallas before being signed over the summer by the Penguins, caught eyes in training camp with his speed. He led Wilkes-Barre with two goals, eight points in seven games going into last night.

Malkin said he planned to travel with the club when it leaves Sunday for a 10-day, four-game trek through California and Boston.

"I'll be watching and supporting the team," he said.

The number of players doing that is mounting, even as the 10-2 Penguins keep winning.

Forward Max Talbot started the season on the long-term injury list after offseason shoulder surgery. He has stopped practicing because of a secondary foot problem and likely will not be ready to play until at least mid-November.

Malkin joins a more recent list of injured players that includes top defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who has missed the past three games because of a broken wrist and could miss another three to five weeks, and winger Tyler Kennedy, who missed the Montreal game and probably won't play tonight because of an undisclosed injury.

Bylsma did not disclose his plans for new line combinations.

"When you lose two good [forwards], it goes without saying that you have some things to fill in and some concerns about who's going to go in there, how it's going to look, what the results are going to be," Bylsma said.

The loss of Malkin and Gonchar hits the top power-play unit particularly hard. Defensemen Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang have been running the points without Gonchar, who primarily sets up the power play. It remains to be seen whether Staal will take over Malkin's spot along the right half boards or will play more in front of the net, with Crosby moving into Malkin's spot, perhaps.

"We have a lot of guys that can play on the power play," Goligoski said. "It's tough losing [Malkin] for a while, but we'll be all right."

Letang said filling the gaps is easier because of the way the power play is set up.

"It's not just about talent. It's about your work ethic, following the plan," Letang said. "Just do simple stuff and make sure we're on the same page."

Malkin probably would have remained in the lineup if allowed. He has played in every game -- 254 in a row, plus 49 in the playoffs -- since he missed the first four games of his rookie season, 2006-07, because of a preseason injury to his other shoulder.

"You don't have to worry about his courage on the ice and how he's going to play," Bylsma said. "Knowing he's been dealing with a sore shoulder, he's still been going out there and throwing body checks and gone in [traffic].


For more on the Penguins, read the new Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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