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What’s next for the Pens and Sidney Crosby after COVID list

It’s going to be a challenge for the Penguins and Evgeni Malkin with Sidney Crosby appearing on the COVID list

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images

The Penguins suffered a big loss today when coach Mike Sullivan announced that Sidney Crosby would be unavailable for tonight’s game in conjunction with being placed on the NHL’s COVID list.

What’s next for Crosby?

The NHL is intentionally very vague about what the COVID list means. Crosby may have tested positive, he also may be caught up in a contact tracing situation if he’s had close contact with someone who is positive. All of these tests could be false positives too, in which case Crosby could be off the COVID list in a short period of time.

One of these situations is likely what happened with John Marino earlier in the season, who was put on the list on Wednesday February 3rd and back at practice and off the list by Friday February 5th. At this point, that would be the best case scenario for all if the subsequent tests are deemed to be false positives and Crosby is cleared quickly.

If it is not a false positive, the wait will be much longer. Earlier in the season, to reference a situation adjacent to the Penguins, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov were held out for seven days in contact tracing when they presumably kept testing negative although they were in the presence of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov who tested positive. Kuznetsov was out of the lineup for three weeks before he was cleared.

What’s next for the Pens?

Right now, it can’t be said for sure if Crosby’s situation is more like Marino’s, Ovechkin’s or Kuznetsov’s, (unless he has tested positive and feels symptoms, which remains unknown). But Crosby could be out a few days, or it could be a few weeks. Either way, he will be out for tonight.

As always, no Sidney Crosby in the lineup means that a larger weight and burden will fall on Evgeni Malkin to step up. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, Malkin has proven to step up and perform without Crosby.

Malkin has not had a good season so far, but this unfortunate absence could be the jolt needed to step up. Malkin will surely get to play with Jake Guentzel as a winger for the first time, and that is a combination that has produced quite well together last season when Crosby was out. (Via Natural Stat Trick)

Geno and Guentzel, 2019-20 (284 minutes)

5v5 Corsi For% xGF% Scoring Chance For% Pens GF/60 Pens GA/60
5v5 Corsi For% xGF% Scoring Chance For% Pens GF/60 Pens GA/60
Malkin+Guentzel 58.3% 63.8% 61.0% 4.63 2.32

Needless to say, if Malkin can’t elevate his game for as long as No. 87 is out, the Pens are in big trouble. Luckily though, the pressure he is put under when Crosby is gone has happened many times before, and every time Malkin has more than risen to the challenge. That will have to be no different this time around, for as long as Crosby remains on the COVID list.

What does this mean for the lineup?

There’s no way to sugar-coat it, losing Sidney Crosby is always a massive blow to the team’s strength. Pittsburgh can fill the number one center spot with Malkin and be OK, but filling Malkin’s spot on the second line and then also backfilling the other center problems is a huge, huge issue, and a problem without a great solution.

Mark Jankowski also remains out, which may be a blessing in disguise since his on ice performance has been the worst of all Pittsburgh forwards this season in terms of expected goal share. But Jankowski’s absence still leaves another void of missing one of a limited centers.

Sullivan gave a few thoughts on how the team will be setup.

The main piece of the puzzle to slot in will be Jared McCann, since he has center and wing capability. Does Sullivan keep McCann on wing like he’s been all season and elevate Teddy Blueger to the second line? Or does Sullivan instead slide McCann to center and keep his checking buzzsaw line in tact? Either avenue is a possibility, and we’ll see soon enough what he is thinking.

Sullivan also broke the checking line up to put Zach Aston-Reese on a scoring line, and that seemed to sink both lines, if only for a game. That could be reason to keep that group together.

As Sullivan mentioned, Sam Lafferty is another player to watch for where he is placed. Lafferty has been recently centering the fourth line with Jankowski out, but could be seen as a stand-in for Brandon Tanev if the team elects to bump Tanev up, or even the center of the third line if it’s Blueger moving up and McCann staying on the wing.

A new face

Another option could be finding someone who hasn’t played in the NHL yet for the fourth line. Jordy Bellerive was elevated to the taxi squad last week, but re-assigned to the AHL. Josh Currie has also flirted between the taxi squad and AHL. Down in Wilkes, rookie 24-year old Radim Zohorna has six points in seven AHL games and positional flexibility as well.

But the Pens’ fourth line has also been relegated to basically an after-thought right now. All played 5-6 even strength minutes last game, and probably won’t be doing much more in the future, regardless if it’s Lafferty centering players like Colton Sceviour and Anthony Angello or if it is a new face like Currie in the mix there.

The bottom line is unavoidable and needless to say, the Pens will be placed in a very disadvantaged position until Crosby is back, and ideally that will be as soon as possible. For a team with five games in the next eight days, nine in the next 15 days, they will pile up quickly.