Malkin will miss six to eight weeks with undisclosed injury
March 12, 2016 5:25 PM
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin, who was injured in last night's game against the Blue Jackets, will not play Sunday against the Rangers.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
NEW YORK — Navigating a busy schedule rife with quality opponents won’t be the Penguins’ only challenge in the final four weeks of the NHL season.
It might not even be the biggest.
That’s because center Evgeni Malkin, who was hurt Friday night in their 3-2 victory in Columbus, will be out for the next 6-8 weeks because of an undisclosed injury, the team announced Saturday.
Malkin, the Penguins’ No. 2 scorer with 27 goals and 31 assists in 57 games, was injured in a collision with Columbus defenseman Dalton Prout and appeared to hurt his left shoulder/arm/wrist.
Nick Bonino filled Malkin’s spot between Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel on the second line in the Penguins practice Saturday in Greenburgh, N.Y., although it’s not clear how coach Mike Sullivan plans to replace Malkin for their game against the New York Rangers at 12:38 p.m. today at Madison Square Garden.
Veteran Matt Cullen handled that duty capably for part of the time Malkin and Bonino were injured earlier this season.
Shortly after Malkin’s prognosis was announced, the Penguins recalled forwards Dominik Simon and Conor Sheary from their minor league team in Wilkes-Barre and returned winger Tom Sestito to the Baby Penguins.
Malkin returned to Pittsburgh for further evaluation rather than accompany his teammates here.
He missed 10 consecutive games last month, during which time the Penguins went 5-4-1. Their all-time record when he has been injured is 70-45-9.
The Rangers, coming off a 3-2 overtime loss Saturday in Detroit, are in second place in the Metropolitan Division, seven points ahead of the Penguins. The New York Islanders are third in the division, four points ahead of the Penguins.
The Penguins hold the No. 2 wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the Red Wings.
Even with Malkin, the Penguins were a long shot to overtake either New York club before the regular season ends April 9 considering they’ve managed to win as many as two games in a row only twice since the All-Star break at the end of January.
That means that, assuming they qualify for the playoffs, the Penguins likely will end up with one of the East’s two wild-card berths and a first-round matchup with a division champion. Washington is the runaway leader in the Metropolitan, while Boston, Tampa Bay and Florida are vying for the top spot in the Atlantic.
The Capitals are a virtual lock to finish No. 1 in the East, which would pit them against the second wild card in the opening round and put the Atlantic champ into a best-of-seven with the first wild card.
The division titlists would have home-ice advantage in both of those series.
If the Penguins hope to catch the Rangers and/or Islanders, the next two games are crucial. After facing the Rangers today, they return home to play Tuesday against the Islanders.
“We play those teams a few times coming up,” defenseman Trevor Daley said. “Those are games we can control.”
The Penguins, predictably, are not resigned to settling for a wild card, if only because they — like every other team trying to secure a playoff berth — are intent on picking up every possible point in the final four weeks of the regular season.
If they succeed in doing that on a regular basis, climbing in the standings might not be out of the question.
“Our main focus needs to be being better as a team and trying to get as many points as we can,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “And wherever we’re going to land, we’re going to land.”
NOTE — Sullivan said winger Scott Wilson, who also was injured against the Blue Jackets, will be a game-time decision today, depending on how he responds to medical treatments.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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