Cavalry coming for ailing Penguins
Share with others:
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- You could fill a phone book with the names of Penguins who have been injured over the past year.
And injuries have put the Penguins in a tough spot as they head into their game tonight against the Kings in Los Angeles.
It has left them bare bones at forward and defense.
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy is the latest player to be sidelined long term after breaking his left wrist Thursday night in the 4-3 shootout loss at San Jose. That same extended run of injuries, however, sets up a glut of players when or if the team reaches full strength.
- Matchup: Penguins vs. Los Angeles Kings, 10:38 p.m. today, Staples Center, Los Angeles.
- TV, Radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Jonathan Quick for Kings.
- Penguins: Have lost two games in a row. ... Are 4-1 in past five games vs. Kings. ... Were tied for top penalty-killing in NHL, 92.5 percent, before the games Friday night.
- Kings: Have lost three games in a row, four of past five. ... Have scored one goal in past three home games. ... D Jack Johnson tied for NHL lead in winning goals (3) going into Friday night.
- Hidden stat: Los Angeles had season-low 19 shots Thursday in 3-0 loss to Edmonton, its second shutout loss in past five games.
"You think about it: What's your roster going to look like if you're healthy?" general manager Ray Shero said Friday.
While the Penguins practiced at HP Pavilion, Shero was back East, on his way to watch American Hockey League affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton play.
The Penguins have had to dip into the AHL a few times for players, and others never got sent down in the preseason or early regular season because of those injuries.
After the Kings game, the Penguins are off until Friday. There are three forwards who seem to be close to returning and might get clearance to resume playing next week: centers Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Jordan Staal (leg) and winger Tyler Kennedy (concussion). Staal, in fact, could play tonight. Crosby and Kennedy are on injured reserve.
Shero will have to clear spots on the 23-man roster if all three come back soon and no one else gets hurt.
"If we get a full roster, we plan to make a move," he said.
That could mean reassignments to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton or one or more trades.
"I've talked to some teams," Shero said, adding that usually "you try to get at least 20 games in" before evaluations lead to discussions with other general managers, but the team's tough stretch has caused him to start early.
The Penguins not only have had injury problems but also have had a hectic schedule with 13 games in the first 24 days and two trips to the West Coast. The game tonight will be their 15th.
One name that might come up is center Mark Letestu, a healthy scratch four times after a strong rookie campaign last season.
Shero wouldn't confirm any names that have come up in discussions with other teams, but he made it clear that he doesn't have itchy fingers.
"I want to get through the game Saturday," he said. "It's not like I'm actively looking to move a player."
Of course, Shero wasn't planning on having so many injured players, either. But he's not dismayed.
"It's the way the league is," he said. "We have seen more than our share the past couple years. I believe we're used to it."
Crosby has been out since January. Center Evgeni Malkin is still dealing at times with soreness from February knee surgery. Center Dustin Jeffrey got a late start to the season after March knee surgery.
Last season, the Penguins were fairly healthy on defense, especially compared to the injury situation at forward.
This season, the epidemic has hit forwards and defensemen.
Lovejoy joined fellow defenseman Zbynek Michalek (broken finger) on the current injury list. Brooks Orpik missed the first eight games after offseason abdominal surgery. Brian Strait, called up as a reinforcement, is out (elbow).
Going into training camp, there was a question of which defenseman would be the odd man out after the top six. Now it's a matter of making sure there are six healthy bodies.
That's why, Shero said, it's crucial to build what might seem like an inordinate amount of depth.
"You need six or seven in the NHL and three or four in the minors who can come up and maybe not play the whole season but you're comfortable putting them into situations," he said.
Alexandre Picard is expected to make his Penguins debut tonight in place of Lovejoy.
Friday, the Penguins recalled defenseman Robert Bortuzzo from Wilkes-Barre. It's unclear if he represents insurance or if another defenseman is hurt.
Bortuzzo and another recall candidate on defense, Boris Valabik, missed training camp because of knee injuries.
"Unfortunately, we've had some significant injuries," coach Dan Bylsma said. "That's a part of what everybody goes through. We do have great depth at defense."
That goes for center, too, where injuries have meant Crosby, Staal and Malkin have played in just two games together since the start of the 2010-11 season
There is no discernible pattern to the injuries the Penguins have sustained, and Shero considers the incidents that have led to most of the injuries standard hockey plays.
"If you're going to play games, this is going to happen," he said. "We've just dealt with it for a long time."
• Game: Penguins vs. Los Angeles Kings, 10:38 p.m.
• Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles.
• TV: Root Sports.
First Published November 5, 2011 12:04 am