It may be one of the strangest rituals in hockey: in the solemn interviews that cap an abruptly-ended season, fans watch the grand reveal of what exactly all those “upper-body” and “lower-body” injuries really were.
The later the postseason exit, the more shocking the injuries. After the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2017, the team revealed that Nick Bonino had tried to play through a broken shinbone, while Ian Cole dealt with a broken hand and broken ribs through two rounds.
But these past few years, a series of early departures have led to some anti-climatic exit interviews.
Last season, when the Penguins were bounced in the qualifying round by the Montreal Canadiens, exit interviews didn’t focus on injuries— in fact, the chronically hurt 2019-20 squad had mostly recovered for the postseason thanks to the delayed start to the playoffs.
But in 2020-21, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan revealed the specifics of two players’ injuries during postseason interviews. Neither, of course, will be surprising for any fan that watched this short playoff run.
Coach Sullivan on DeSmith: "Casey was dealing with a soft tissue groin injury, which is not an easy injury from a goaltending standpoint. That's why he was unavailable for the playoffs."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 28, 2021
Groin injuries are one of the most common issues experienced by hockey goaltenders. After watching former Penguins goaltender Matt Murray struggle through a host of injury issues (which unfortunately have continued since his trade to Ottawa), it’s difficult— both from a health and a hockey standpoint— to see another Pittsburgh netminder sidelined with health problems.
Coach Sullivan on Malkin: "Geno was dealing with a knee injury. He fought really hard to get back into our lineup to help us win. He was not 100%, I think I'm probably stating the obvious when I say that. He is continuing to be evaluated right now."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 28, 2021
Malkin racked up five points (1-4—5) in four games against the Islanders, but that’s more a testament to his skill than to his health. It was clear in his labored stride that the star center was “not 100%”.
Unfortunately for a team whose greatest strength is its two star centers, Malkin has a history of being sidelined due to injury. As of April 28, he had missed 150 games since the 2013 season. As the Pittsburgh core ages and recovery times stretch longer, those frequent ailments become even more concerning. (Malkin turns 35 this July.)
The injury details handed out by Sullivan remain vague, and no timelines for recovery have been publicly offered by the team. The most important aspect of these injuries is, as always, the players’ health for its own sake. But in hockey terms, it will be interesting to keep an eye on what the recovery timelines for these two ailments might be— after all, they could help determine what moves the Penguins will need to make this offseason.