The Penguins received some bad injury news on Friday for the first time in a while. Coach Mike Sullivan announced that Reilly Smith could be out for a while with an undisclosed upper body injured suffered last night against Vancouver.
Mike Sullivan provided an update on Reilly Smith: "Reilly is being evaluated more today, but I would categorize him as longer-term with an upper-body injury."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) January 12, 2024
Smith was on the ice briefly today as part of his evaluation. He only played 3:08 last night after being hit into the boards from behind by Nikita Zadorov and the cameras caught him wincing on the bench before he left for the locker room.
“He’s not an easy guy to replace at this particular point, but he’s a real good player,” Sullivan said. “I just think there’s been some inconsistencies to his game in this first part of the season. We’re looking forward to getting him back in the lineup.”
Smith was recently demoted to the third line, after almost exclusively playing on Evgeni Malkin’s wing for most of the first half of the season.
As Sullivan referenced, it’s been a tale of two seasons for Smith. Following a two goal, four point night against San Jose back on November 4th, Smith only has scored two goals and recorded nine total points over the last 30 games. Prior to that, Smith started the season red hot with six goals and 11 points in the opening 10 games of the year.
Even if he hasn’t been playing like it, the injury leaves the Penguins without one of their most skilled forwards. Drew O’Connor has picked up a lot of slack and replaced Smith on Malkin’s line and will be counted on in the near future to stay productive in that role.
Pittsburgh has Radim Zohorna in reserve that could be re-entering the lineup. Zohorna has been a healthy scratch for the previous five games. Zohorna has been fading himself, scoring just two points (1G+1A) in his last 20 games after starting the season with five points (3G+2A) in nine games.
Smith’s injury leaves the Pens with only 12 healthy forwards and low on cap space unless the team places Smith on long term injured reserve (which would keep him out of the lineup for at least 10 games). Vinnie Hinostroza, Alex Nylander, Sam Poulin and Jonathan Gruden are some candidates that could be recalled from the minors if the team goes that route to add to their depth.
Smith’s injury is the first major one the team has had to endure since Bryan Rust returned earlier this month. Other than Rust (who has missed 13 games this season) and Rickard Rakell (out for 12), the Pens have had a durable first half of the season to this point among key contributors. Smith is set to join that list, but the good news for Pittsburgh is that with the All-Star break and bye week ahead they only play seven games in the next four weeks through February 8th before the schedule picks back up.