After another blown lead to the Flyers last night, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan announced a much bigger loss following the game in the form of star center Evgeni Malkin out injured in a “week to week capacity”.
Coach Sullivan confirms that Evgeni Malkin was out of the lineup due to a week-to-week upper-body injury.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 18, 2019
Malkin was down for a bit in the first period on Saturday afternoon game after this cross-check to the ribs from former teammate Robert Bortuzzo.
The Penguins labeled Evgeni Malkin's "upper-body" injury as week to week. He took a pretty vicious cross check in the right ribs portion of his upper-body from former teammate Robert Bortuzzo on Saturday: pic.twitter.com/iIuiifLY8s— Seth Rorabaugh (@SethRorabaugh) March 18, 2019
Malkin was able to play the game but obviously had more than discomfort and a designation of “week to week” doesn’t sound good.
Then again, in the past players like Patric Hornqvist have returned in a handful of days after being labeled that. Kris Letang has been the better diagnosis of “day to day” for almost a month now and has not returned.
So who knows with the unreliable information in the form of an NHL coach what the real timetable actually is. That’s not a knock on Sullivan, who has no benefit to announce anything more than he needs to say about this. Between rehabs and how player’s bodies respond, it’s a dynamic area that’s probably changing a lot as time goes on, so it’s not like he can give an exact and precise and accurate idea now anyways.
Still, a “week to week” prognosis on what obviously is some sort of rib issue can’t be a positive. Playoffs begin in just over three weeks, and the Penguins have a lot of important games starting down the stretch to make sure they still make it (still looks good) and also wind up in a decent position.
Even with an 0-1-1 weekend, the Pens remain in pretty good shape. It would probably be advisable not to finish in Wild Card #2 spot and draw Tampa in the first round (and BOS/TOR winner in a Round 2). While anything could happen in the playoffs, Pittsburgh’s odds of actually winning those two rounds and making it out the other side would have to be very low, compared to staying in the Metro side of the bracket and NOT having to play two of the top three teams in the league in early in the playoffs.
That said, it really goes to show how important tomorrow night’s Carolina game is. A Pens regulation win would put them five points up on the Hurricanes, who still have two games in hand. But it’s very difficult this time of year to make up five points on a team. A Pittsburgh regulation win Tuesday puts them in great position to be at least the #3 seed in the Metro.
However, they won’t have Malkin for that game, and his absence will be a large hole in the lineup - especially considering the even strength struggles of players like Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist as of late. These situations are typically where Kessel elevates his game to play his very best hockey, and that will be a big boost if the star player can play at a high level and get a second line going.
As we saw this weekend, if Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel aren’t scoring and Matt Murray slips at all, the Pens usually lose. Now they have to go down the stretch without a vital player in Malkin, and they’ll need guys like Kessel and Hornqvist to pick up the slack for secondary options.