Penguins' Orpik out 4-6 weeks


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Brooks Orpik isn't flashy. He never has had more than two goals or 25 points in a season. His name isn't synonymous with Norris Trophy candidate.

Yet the defenseman's value to the Penguins is enormous, and that value that has been put on hold.

Orpik will miss about a month because of a broken finger on his right hand, the team learned Thursday.

"He's so precious to this team," goaltender Brent Johnson said. "He's out there every other shift, it seems. He's working the penalty kill. He's tough. He's rugged in front of the net. He hits hard. I'm sure he's intimidating to a lot of guys.

"And he brings a lot of leadership to our dressing room -- just the way he handles himself. He's classy, a very stand-up professional. He also works like none other I've seen in the gym, on the ice at practice."

Orpik, 30 and an alternate captain, was injured Wednesday when he got hit by a shot taken by San Jose's Patrick Marleau. He joins a long list of injured Penguins.

Even as three other injured players -- defenseman Paul Martin and centers Mark Letestu and Dustin Jeffrey -- seem ready to return as soon as tonight against Carolina, the loss of Orpik for an extended time is a significant blow.

As with the team's injured top two centers, Sidney Crosby, who has a concussion, and Evgeni Malkin, who had season-ending knee surgery, Orpik can't easily be replaced by shifting someone into his role, which was usually on the top defensive pairing with Kris Letang and as a top penalty-killer.

"There's a grit level and a physicality in his game that's apparent and holds the other team accountable even before you start the game," coach Dan Bylsma said. "They know they're going against Brooks Orpik. They know they're going to be dealing with a good defender who is good positionally and a physical guy. He's a good guy on the [penalty kill], first guy over the boards on every [penalty kill]."

Orpik, 6 feet 2 and 219 pounds, leads his team and was 11th in the NHL with 177 hits before games Thursday night. He is third on the club with 88 blocked shots. He has a goal and 11 assists and, despite playing against top offensive players and on a team that has been struggling to score because of injuries, has a plus-minus rating of plus-9.

He also altered his game some this season to fit a restructured system that requires all defensemen to move the puck well in a swift transition game.

"He's tough and physical, but I think that he's very underrated with the way that he moves the puck, his stick-handling ability," Martin said.

Several other defensemen could see their minutes rise with Orpik out, and Bylsma noted that Deryk Engelland can help fill in as a physical player, while Ben Lovejoy has a lot of minor league experience as a shutdown defenseman.

If Martin can't play against Carolina, the Penguins will need to call up a defenseman from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

"It's a fine line between coming back, wanting to help the team, and making sure you're ready to go for the stretch run," said Martin, who said he felt good after participating in a full practice Thursday at Consol Energy Center for the first time since he got an unspecified injury Sunday after being knocked into the boards by Chicago's Patrick Sharp.

Like Martin, Jeffrey and Letestu made it through practice and hope to play tonight, Saturday at Toronto or in the odd second trip to Toronto for a game Wednesday.

Letestu has made a quick recovery from Feb. 5 arthroscopic knee surgery. Jeffrey injured his left knee Feb. 10 when he tumbled over Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick and into the net.

"Everything feels fine," said Jeffrey, who is wearing a brace. "I pushed it pretty hard after practice, and it felt good."


NOTES -- The Penguins reassigned Tim Wallace to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. ... The team's home game March 13 against Edmonton won't be the NBC national broadcast game and is being moved to 3:08 p.m. It originally had been listed for an earlier start. The game will be televised locally by FSN Pittsburgh. ... Winger Eric Godard will serve the sixth game of his 10-game suspension.


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


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