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Justin Schultz out four months to repair lower leg fracture

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The news isn’t good for the Penguins’ top-six defenseman.

Washington Capitals v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Four

Justin Schultz got knocked over against Montreal, fell awkwardly, and it didn’t look good right off the bat. He left the game putting no pressure on his lower left leg and was seen after the contest in a walking boot and on crutches.

Monday morning, the Mike Sullivan and the Penguins confirmed that Schultz officially fractured his lower leg, underwent successful surgery Sunday, and will be out for at least four months to recover.

While a significant injury was feared, it was all but confirmed when the venerable Bob McKenzie tweeted yesterday, “No official word yet from PIT on specifics of left leg/ankle injury suffered by Justin Schultz last night but speculation is it’s a fracture. Timeline TBD but it’s obviously going to be significant.”

This will be a serious blow to the Penguins’ defense, as Schultz is an important second-pair defenseman, power play guy, and one of the team’s best puck movers on defense. Schultz tallied four assists in the team’s first three games.

Where will they turn now? It stands to figure rookie Juuso Riikola will be given a much longer look in the NHL lineup, and with Chad Ruhwedel on the roster, there’s still seven NHL-caliber healthy defensemen on the roster, so there’s no real reason to make any changes or additions now. Individually, though it’s never fun to see a teammate hurt, this Schultz injury also offers an opportunity for Olli Maatta and Jamie Oleksiak — two players that have been healthy scratches in this early season. There’s more of a need for them now, and both will surely be challenged to improve their game and help pickup the slack that the absence of No. 4 will bring.

Salary cap-wise, there are no real implications or benefits due to this injury. Schultz will be placed on the injured reserve, which only means that he doesn’t count against the 23-man roster limit. He can not currently be place on the long term injured reserve because the Penguins aren’t above the upper limit of the salary cap.

Technically, Pittsburgh could trade for a rental replacement that could have them exceed the salary cap while Schultz is injured and use the LTIR function, however that’s probably not going to happen, because when Schultz regains health and comes back, the team would have to return to be salary cap compliant, and that would be difficult to do if they add someone now.

So the timing makes it tough, and the Penguins are just going to have to rally around the players they have left and wait for Schultz to heal up and return.