Malkin Injury Puts Spotlight on Pittsburgh’s Woes

USATSI_9176857_154158418_lowresThe Pittsburgh Penguins announced Saturday that forward Evgeni Malkin will be out six to eight weeks due to an upper body injury.

The injury was the result of a collision with Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Dalton Prout on Friday. Malkin appeared to favour his left arm after the contact and the Penguins said he was to be evaluated.

Pittsburgh is in the middle of a post-season push and the Malkin injury certainly puts a damper on things. The club is fourth in the Metropolitan Division with a 35-24-8 record. They’ve got 78 points, just two ahead of the surging Philadelphia Flyers and four back of the New York Islanders. They currently occupy the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, but that may not last.

That this team would be on the bubble is a mystery in and of itself. Even without Malkin, they should be a formidable team on paper.

Last month, the Russian superstar missed 10 games and the Penguins went 5-4-1. They have a 70-45-9 record without Malkin.

But this is an all hands on deck situation and not having Malkin in the lineup is going to sting, even for a team that’s had injury woes throughout the season. They’ve had to shuffle the deck numerous times, with Nick Bonino receiving a promotion between Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel.

“With [Evgeni] out a few times this year, and guys have been hurt, we’ve all gotten to play with different guys,” Bonino said. “For me, my game won’t change, it’ll still create chances, hopefully they’ll go in, play good in our end, just get them the puck, like I said.”

Bonino may have rattled off all the right hockey clichés, but the Penguins are plainly more effective with Malkin in the lineup. His plus-3.45 CF%Rel 5-on-5 is fancy advanced statistics speak for his team’s possession of the puck (relative to the rest of the squad) when he’s on the ice, which puts him third on the Penguins among players appearing in more than 50 games.

The Magnitogorsk native has 58 points in 57 games this season. He drives possession, generates points at a tremendous pace and produces in all situations.

But even with the likes of Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury dotting the roster, the Penguins can’t win at a conclusive rate and find themselves once again fighting for their playoff lives. Making the post-season shouldn’t be a struggle for this club and they should be able to weather this storm without Malkin, but they also shouldn’t be in trouble like this to begin with.

And that’s why this injury highlights all that’s wrong with the Penguins. They haven’t had the resolve of the Chicago Blackhawks to maintain a Cup presence and they aren’t well-regarded like the Los Angeles Kings. They’re impressive individually, but Pittsburgh’s failure to coalesce as a team stands out.

Something has to give. The Penguins should be a consistently threatening hockey club. But as this situation reveals, being good on paper can only push a team so far.


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