Penguins not using injuries as excuses

Letang latest casualty, will be evaluated today

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BOSTON -- One of the last things the Penguins wanted to talk about late Saturday night was the impact of injuries to several key players.

They found other reasons for the 5-0 pasting they received from San Jose. Things like a slow start, an ineffective forecheck and, in general, not playing up to their standards.

Presented with the mounting list of walking wounded as a reason for that, the Penguins deflected.

"You can't look for an excuse," said Martin Skoula, one of just four defensemen left at the end of the Sharks game after Kris Letang was injured in the first period and Jay McKee was booted because of penalties in the third.

"You have to perform every night. It's not like somebody's going to give you something for free."

The Penguins have been more on the side of having things -- or, at least, players -- taken away.

The latest could be Letang. He left in the first period against the Sharks with what appeared to be a right arm or shoulder problem. He flew to Pittsburgh yesterday and will be evaluated by doctors today. His status is unclear for tomorrow night, when the Penguins end their four-game, bi-coastal road trip in Boston. They are 1-2 on the trip.

Also out are All-Star center Evgeni Malkin (shoulder, has missed five games) top defenseman Sergei Gonchar (wrist, eight games), winger Tyler Kennedy (groin, two in a row and five of past six) and forward Max Talbot (shoulder, has yet to play).

After a second loss in a row for the first time this season, each with a season-high five goals against, coach Dan Bylsma had other worries.

"I don't think where we were at was a result of [Letang's] injury or a depleted lineup," he said.

Yet the players who are missing represent a huge bite out of the club that won the Stanley Cup, and their injuries coincide with a dip in the Penguins' record. They were 8-1 before Gonchar missed his first game and are 4-4 since as others have crammed into the training room.

Gonchar and Malkin are main cogs in the top power-play unit, which is in an 0-for-21 slump the past five games.

Looking back at the playoffs last spring, Malkin was the top scorer in the NHL with 36 points, including seven power-play goals and three game-winners, and was named the postseason MVP.

Kennedy added three game-winning goals. Talbot had two game-winners, including one in the clinching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final against Detroit.

Gonchar had two game-winners, two power-play goals.

Letang had two power-play goals.

That's 10 of their 16 game-winning goals and a quarter of their regular playoff lineup.

"It's something that's going to happen," Penguins center and captain Sidney Crosby said of the spate of injuries. "You don't like when it does. You have to do the things necessary to change it pretty quickly. This is something you have to deal with, and it's not always easy.

"If you look at our team right now, we're facing some adversity, so we've got to find a way to be successful. When you're facing times like this, it doesn't get any easier. It just gets tougher. We've got to be ready for that."

Without Malkin in the Penguins lineup, opponents can focus more on Crosby's line. He has gone four games without a point for the first time in his NHL career.

If it's any consolation for the Penguins, it's not just them being hit.

Among the other key players around the league who are injured are Washington's Alex Ovechkin, Carolina's Eric Staal, Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, Vancouver's Roberto Luongo and Daniel Sedin and New Jersey's Patrik Elias.

Boston, the Penguins' upcoming opponent, is playing without Marc Savard and Milan Lucic.

Winger Matt Cooke didn't want to hear it, saying the Penguins are good enough to figure out how to win without their missing players.

"Good teams overcome injuries," he said. "Sometimes you do have to change the way you play when you're missing three offensive threats -- especially the power play. You change your ways a little bit. You prepare yourselves to win games 1-0 or 2-1. I think at this point we haven't really made that adjustment and put our mindset to do the right things to win games like that.

"I know we have injuries, but there's other guys who are getting opportunities to prove themselves, and good teams overcome injuries."


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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