Deplaning in the wee hours after a Nov. 25 game at Boston, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma noticed something about defenseman Paul Martin.
Noticed it, but had no idea of its full implication.
“When you heard the next day that Paul Martin broke a bone … I mean, I watched him walk off the plane, so I knew he was in some discomfort, but he played the rest of the game,” Bylsma said. “You expect maybe a bone bruise, but not to hear it’s a broken bone.”
Martin, who has not returned to practice, broke his left leg blocking a shot that night and will miss his 15th game in row when the Penguins return from the NHL’s three-day Christmas break tonight at Carolina.
He is part of a long list of perplexing injuries for the team. The Penguins have not only been resilient — they lead the Eastern Conference with 55 points in 39 games — but also march on secure in the belief that there is no one underlying cause or blame for the injuries, which have added up to 210 man-games lost.
“People always want to try to find an answer for weird things like this,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “I don’t think there is one.”
Not all the specifics of the injuries have been disclosed by the club, but they cover a wide range of body parts and diagnoses.
The latest injury was to top-line right winger Pascal Dupuis, who left the game Monday night at Ottawa with an apparent right knee injury. There has been no update on his status.
Defenseman Deryk Engelland is eligible to return tonight after a five-game NHL suspension. It’s possible as many as three injured players also could return, with defensemen Brooks Orpik (concussion) and Rob Scuderi (broken left ankle) and winger Tanner Glass (broken right hand) at the top of the list.
They still will be without defensemen Kris Letang (left arm/elbow) and Martin; forwards Evgeni Malkin (left leg), Beau Bennett (broken left hand/wrist), Andrew Ebbett (broken ankle) and Jayson Megna (right leg/knee); and goaltender Tomas Vokoun (blood-thinners).
Not to mention injuries earlier in the season to Bennett, Malkin, Letang and forwards Chuck Kobasew and James Neal.
There is not, the Penguins say, much they could have done to prevent the injuries, such as different conditioning or a change in practices.
“They’re not guys out there just pulling groins and hurting their backs, things like that,” forward Craig Adams said. “I’m pretty confident with the way that guys take care of themselves.”
If there’s any commonality, it is that several injuries came while blocking shots. The Penguins rank sixth in the NHL with 608 blocked shots (15.6 a game). Most are harmless, but some are critical to thwarting opponents’ scoring chances.
“Everyone blocks shots,” Niskanen said. “It doesn’t seem like [other teams] have as many injuries as we do.”
Scuderi insisted that the Penguins should not and will not shy from blocking shots.
“It’s part of the game,” he said. “It’s part of your responsibility. It stinks that it results in injuries, but that’s part of the price you pay to win. We have guys that are willing to do it.”
Scuderi’s broken ankle was not the result of a shot. He simply landed awkwardly after Toronto’s David Clarkson finished a check against him.
“To break a bone, you’ve got to put a significant amount of force on it in some way at a bad angle or while blocking a shot,” Scuderi said. “There’s really not a whole lot you can do.”
Dupuis’ injury came when he got hit by teammate Sidney Crosby, who was hip-checked by Ottawa defenseman Marc Methot. Orpik’s concussion was the result of an attack after a whistle by Boston’s Shawn Thornton, who is serving a 15-game suspension. It’s unknown how or why Vokoun developed a blood clot in his pelvis.
Bylsma called Scuderi’s broken ankle “a freak circumstance” that “in particular was kind of a nonchalant play — a finished check and you land funny and you get a broken bone.”
He is just as incredulous about some of the blocked-shot injuries.
Of Martin’s, Bylsma said: “He’s standing in front of the net. It’s a wrist shot, not a slapshot. It catches him in a unique spot in terms of padding, and he ends up with a broken bone.”
Ebbett, Bylsma said, was wearing a protective cover on his skates specifically designed to help avoid injuries while blocking shots.
“It breaks the protector and it breaks the bone,” Bylsma said. “I’ve never seen one of those [protectors] break on a shot.”
That’s the way things have gone this season for the Penguins.
“The nature of some injuries — a groin pull or a muscle strain or back spasms — maybe there’s a couple of things that you could have done differently,” Scuderi said. “There’s nothing you can do here.
“It happens. It stinks. But it’s not as if you can look back on it and say, ‘Well, if I would have only done this differently, it would have been different.’”
Niskanen believes that not only are there no real answers, but that it also would be a waste of time to ponder why or how the injuries have piled up.
“I know it’s hard not to, but I don’t think you have to look for an explanation,” Niskanen said. “It’s just a string of bad luck.
“You’ve got to figure at some point it’s going to turn around for us. Hopefully, we get healthy at the right time of the year [as the playoffs approach].”
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.