The Penguins' Trevor Daley celebrates a goal by teammate Phil Kessel, right, as Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg skates away during the second period in Detroit.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
DETROIT — Things seemed so simple for the Penguins just a few weeks ago.
All they had to worry about was earning enough points to claim an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Turns out, though, that winning games has been the easy part.
The real challenge for the Penguins might be finding enough healthy bodies to field a full lineup for their remaining eight games.
They picked up another couple of points with a 7-2 victory against Detroit Saturday at Joe Louis Arena — their seventh in the past eight games — but lost two more players in the process.
If that trend continues — remember, Evgeni Malkin, Olli Maatta, Scott Wilson, Kevin Porter and, of course, Pascal Dupuis already were nursing serious injuries — the Penguins might have to charter a second airplane if they decide to take ailing personnel on the road.
“For our team, it’s been a real tough year for injuries,” forward Eric Fehr said.
Left winger Chris Kunitz and defenseman Brian Dumoulin joined the injured list Saturday. Kunitz appeared to take a shoulder on the chin in a collision with Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk late in the second period and Dumoulin was checked face-first into the glass by Red Wings winger Justin Abdelkader early in the first.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan gave no indication of the nature or severity of either injury, but ruled Dumoulin out of the game tonight against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden and characterized Kunitz as “a game-time decision.”
Derrick Pouliot, a healthy scratch for the past 10 games, has been penciled in as Dumoulin’s replacement.
“He’s been working hard in practice,” Sullivan said. “He’s prepared to play.”
Luckily for the Penguins, one guy who had been questionable for the Detroit game, center Nick Bonino, was able to dress. And to make onlookers wonder what he might have been capable of if he hadn’t injured a finger when struck by a shot in practice a day earlier.
As it was, Bonino put up a goal and four assists, matching the output of linemate Phil Kessel.
It was the first five-point game for both.
“It’s better with nine fingers, I guess,” Bonino said, smiling.
Bonino has been filling Malkin’s spot lately and teamed with his linemates, Kessel and Carl Hagelin, to account for four goals and eight assists against the Red Wings.
“It’s one of those days,” Kessel said. “It’s just kind of worked out.”
There was no guarantee that would be the case after the first period, when Detroit took a 1-0 lead on a breakaway goal by Andreas Athanasiou, but the Penguins scored four unanswered goals in the second to take control.
Kunitz got one 20 seconds after intermission and Kris Letang put the Penguins in front to stay on a power play at 4:08. The primary assist on Letang’s goal went to Kessel, which proved to be a portent.
Kessel would go on to set up three more, each time making the pass that led to a goal.
“Everybody looks at Phil as being a scorer, and his shot, which is really good,” Sullivan said. “But what goes under the radar is how he passes the puck.”
Of course, it was kind of tough to overlook on this day, since the public-address announcer kept mentioning Kessel every few minutes.
Just as it was difficult to ignore what the Penguins did with an injury-diluted lineup. Again.
“When we’re playing how we think we can,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “No matter who we’re rolling out there right now, we’re a difficult team to play against.”
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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