Penguins' injuries add up to fewer points
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The New York Rangers rank second in the Atlantic Division, and have 60 points.
The Penguins are fourth, with 50.
That's a significant difference, but nowhere near as large as the gap between their respective total of man-games lost to injuries and illness.
New York, which will visit Mellon Arena at 7:38 p.m. tomorrow, reports losing 10 of those so far this season. The Penguins' total is 197, and will swell past 200 tomorrow because forwards Mike Zigomanis (shoulder surgery) and Ruslan Fedotenko (broken hand) and defenseman Sergei Gonchar (shoulder surgery) definitely are out.
Defenseman Brooks Orpik, who is believed to have a groin injury and skated on his own yesterday, isn't likely to play, either, according to coach Michel Therrien, and the status of defenseman Rob Scuderi is unclear after he missed practice yesterday because of illness.
Still, the medical news for the Penguins, who have not had their lineup of choice intact for any of their 48 games to date, wasn't all bad. For a change.
Center Max Talbot, out for the past three games because of an undisclosed injury, pronounced himself ready to return after going through a 45-minute workout at Mellon Arena, and winger Pascal Dupuis, who has missed seven in a row because of a sore groin, seems cautiously optimistic about playing against New York.
"It felt better today," Dupuis said. "Way better. The little [All-Star] break really helped. ... We'll see how [today] goes, and we'll go from there."
Center Sidney Crosby, however, remains iffy for the Rangers game because of the knee injury that forced him to skip the NHL All-Star Game Sunday in Montreal. Crosby said he "felt all right" after giving his knee a severe test during practice, but declined to predict whether he would be in uniform against New York.
"I tried to go as hard as I could," he said. "If you can't go hard in practice, it probably would be pretty tough to go hard in a game.
"I just have to see [how it is today]. I still feel it a bit. We'll see if it continues to get better, or if it goes backward."
Crosby said he did not believe he would have been able to play if the Penguins had a game last night.
The Penguins can't afford to lose Crosby for another game, of course.
Just like they couldn't afford to be without Gonchar for 48 (and counting) or Ryan Whitney for 33 or Marc-Andre Fleury for 12. Or, for that matter, Zigomanis for 24, Tyler Kennedy for 13 or Hal Gill for 13.
Or any of the other 18 guys who have contributed to those 197 man-games lost.
And while it's entirely possible that their record (23-21-4) would be more impressive if they had been able to avoid at least some of the injuries they've endured during the past four months, that really isn't relevant at this point.
If the Penguins need to win a tiebreaker to qualify for the playoffs, they'll have to beat out an opponent on the basis of total victories, head-to-head competition or goal-differential, not man-games lost.
"Healthy or not, we need to win some games," Talbot said. "I don't think [injuries] can be an excuse. It's a matter of winning games and getting two points and making it into the playoffs. I think we can do that without being healthy, but obviously, it would help."
When Therrien was asked yesterday how his team would approach the balance of this season, he said, "with a lot of desperation," and that's understandable. Their margin for error is small, and shrinks every time a point eludes them.
Gonchar, though, believes that the Penguins' play in the game leading up to the All-Star break is reason for optimism, evidence they are capable of stringing together the victories that will be needed to lock up a place among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference.
He didn't bother mentioning that the Penguins' prospects would improve dramatically if their best defenseman -- that would be Gonchar -- would go back on active duty sooner than sometime in late February or early March, as expected.
"Obviously, if everybody's healthy, it's going to be a little bit better," Gonchar said. "There's no way around [the injuries]. We have to play with what we have, and it seems like the guys are doing a better job. I believe we're on the right track."
First Published January 27, 2009 12:00 am