Penguins notebook: Stamkos' absence alters game for Lightning

PENGUINS NOTEBOOK



TAMPA, Fla. -- He's got 14 goals, 23 points in 17 games this season. He's got 222 career goals at age 23.

But Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos also has a broken leg, so there will be no Stamkos-Sidney Crosby matchup today when the Penguins play the Lightning. Stamkos and Crosby shared the Rocket Richard trophy in 2009-10 with 51 goals each.

"The power play is the biggest [area of impact]," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said of Stamkos, who has 75 career power-play goals. "He's one of those guys in the league where you have to be aware every time he's on the ice. There aren't a lot of guys like that."

Tampa Bay is 4-3-1 without Stamkos after starting 12-5 with him.

Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury noted that the Penguins won't have to face "a really good one-timer on the power play" with Stamkos out of the lineup.

In the eight games Stamkos has missed, the Lightning is 3 for 25 on the power play, including 0 for 13 in its past four games.

Stamkos got hurt Nov. 11 in a game against Boston when he collided with a goal post.

"You don't really see that, thank goodness," Fleury said of that severe an injury on such a play.

No stability for third line

Going back to training camp, one thing Penguins center Brandon Sutter hoped for was a regular set of wingers on the third line.

Nearly two months into the season, that hasn't happened, thanks to injuries and some occasional line juggling. There were some promising signs, though, when Sutter played with recent minor league call-ups Andrew Ebbett and Chris Conner in a 6-5 shootout win Wednesday night against Toronto at Consol Energy Center.

Conner opened the scoring, with Ebbett and Sutter getting the assists.

They formed an energetic line that combined for four shots while helping a defensive effort that held the Maple Leafs without a shot in the third period and through overtime.

"We haven't had a real good third line with an identity, going over the boards and being able to play," coach Dan Bylsma said. "I think we saw that [against Toronto]."

Neal's return boosts Malkin

Anyone who would discount the importance of a comfort level among linemates can look at center Evgeni Malkin and right winger James Neal.

Neal missed all but a few shifts in the first 16 games, and Malkin struggled.

In the 10 games since Neal returned, Malkin has three goals, 16 points. Neal has seven goals, 14 points.

When Neal returned, Malkin was mired in a goal drought that stretched to 15 games. Now he has three goals in the past four games.

Against Toronto Wednesday night, Malkin had six shots, two goals and set up a power-play goal by Neal, who added an assist and had 10 shots.

"He was dominant," Crosby said of Malkin. "That line was generating a lot. The fact that he got that first one [Nov. 22 to end the drought], that got that monkey off his back, and now he can play.

"He looks like he's having a lot of fun. He's not thinking about it.

"He's shooting when he needs to shoot, passing when he needs to pass. It's good for us."

With 30 points, Malkin is three behind Crosby, who led the NHL before Thursday.

Tip-ins

Penguins winger Jussi Jokinen did not participate in an evening practice at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, although he traveled with the team. He was given a "maintenance day." ... The Penguins had a team Thanksgiving dinner planned after the practice. ... Here's a matchup to watch: Tampa Bay has allowed three first-period goals in 12 home games, while the Penguins are 12-1 when scoring first. ... Tampa Bay winger Ryan Malone (foot), a former Penguins player, is on injured reserve. ... Winger Matt D'Agostini, claimed by Buffalo Wednesday after the Penguins exposed him to waivers, told Sabres reporters that being on waivers is "the most anxious 24 hours of your life." He is expected to start his Buffalo career on a line with Steve Ott and Ville Leino.


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.

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