Ron Cook: Injuries hurt, it's no excuse for Penguins



Sidney Crosby played with Tanner Glass on his left wing in place of Chris Kunitz.

Evgeni Malkin played with Joe Vitale on his right wing instead of James Neal.

The power play was without Kunitz, Neal and Kris Letang -- three of its top four scorers -- and had to use Taylor Pyatt and Deryk Engelland at times.

And we're surprised the Penguins came up short in a 4-3 loss Sunday to the Philadelphia Flyers at Consol Energy Center?

It was predictable, wasn't it?

That's no excuse. There are no excuses in professional sports. Injuries happen to every team. Great clubs find a way to overcome, which is what the Penguins had been doing before this lost weekend. The Flyers also exposed them Saturday in a ridiculously easy 4-0 win in Philadelphia.

But the Penguins' 413 man-games lost are a fact. If you keep losing stars -- the team also has been without Pascal Dupuis and Paul Martin for a long time -- it eventually catches up to you. That time appears to be now for the Penguins after Kunitz (lower body) and Neal (concussion) were added to the injury list before the game Saturday.

The protestations you hear are from Crosby and coach Dan Bylsma.

"I think we've had guys be out throughout the year and we found ways to win," Crosby said. "I don't think we're going to use that as an excuse now."

That's admirable.

"We feel totally capable with the guys we have out there," Bylsma said.

That's reasonable thinking, to a point.

There's no way the Penguins' power play, which still has Crosby and Malkin, should ever be as bad as it was in the past two games. It didn't just go a combined 0 for 9. It gave up a killer short-handed goal in each game. The Flyers' Matt Read scored one Sunday for a 4-2 Philadelphia lead after Engelland slipped and turned the puck over in the Flyers' zone.

"Sometimes, the power play is good and you don't score," Crosby said. "That's not the case here. It's not very good right now."

Nothing the Penguins did in either game against the Flyers was good enough, although they did show a little more fight Sunday after being beaten into an early, inexcusable submission Saturday. Crosby really didn't want to hear about that, though. So what that his team came back from a 3-0 first-period deficit to make it a one-goal game? "The expectation here is to compete for 60 minutes," Crosby said. "I don't see any positives to it."

It's no wonder Crosby was ticked. He didn't get a point in either game against the Flyers. The Penguins are 3-13 this season when he fails to get on the score sheet.

It's also no wonder Bylsma was in a hissy mood. The Penguins' penalty-kill was just as bad as the power play. It gave up two first-period power plays Sunday after giving up one Saturday. It's hard to blame not having Kunitz and Neal for that.

The reality is the Penguins were starting to struggle even before Kunitz and Neal went out. They have been badly outshot in five of their past six games. The Flyers had a 40-25 edge in shots Saturday and a 35-23 advantage Sunday. All of those shots have made life rough for Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who was benched for backup Jeff Zatkoff after giving up the Flyers' third goal Sunday just 13:41 into the game. The Penguins were lucky to go 3-3 in those six games.

But there is some good injury news. Bylsma announced after the game that Letang (stroke) and winger Beau Bennett (wrist/hand) have been cleared for full practice. The news about Letang came as a surprise. Many of us -- OK, me, at least -- felt that he probably was done for the season. Although Bylsma cautioned that this was just a step in the process and wouldn't put a timetable on Letang's return to game action, it was hard not to be encouraged by the development.

Kunitz (lower body) could play in the home game Tuesday night against the Dallas Stars. Who knows about Neal? Certainly, here, we know just how nebulous head injuries can be. But, hopefully, he'll be back sooner rather than later.

Now if Martin (broken hand) can come back before the playoffs ...

The Flyers might not recognize the Penguins when the teams next play here April 12.

That would be a good thing, a really good thing.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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