The Penguins announced a specific timetable for how long Matt Nieto will be out yesterday. That’s usually not a good thing when a hockey team deals in specifics on an injury situation. Nieto just underwent knee surgery and will be out another six to eight weeks. The forward hasn’t played since November 30th and missing the better part of two more months is pushing this towards something of a lost season for him.
Forward Matt Nieto underwent successful laparoscopic surgery on his right knee.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 4, 2024
The surgery was performed by head team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas at the UPMC St. Margaret Harmar Outpatient Center. The expected recovery time is six to eight weeks.
Nieto having to go under the knife is unfortunate. He’s not exactly young at 31 but is in a young player’s role to bring speed and energy. He has a contract for next year — and even better — he also has the confidence and faith of the coaches and management, so his position within the team may be fairly secure. But it’s worth wondering what the Penguins will be able to get out of him this year once he’s healed up and if they’re better off looking for different options on the fourth line for now and beyond. Having to come back from an in-season knee surgery while the rest of the league is in March form is no small matter.
One of those options might be Jesse Puljujarvi, who finally got some movement in his comeback attempt from double hip surgery. Puljujarvi is heading to Wilkes on an AHL tryout deal.
It was a surprise when almost a month ago on December 10th that Puljujarvi popped up in a practice in Pittsburgh. However, he’s only been on the ice a handful of times with the team, often rehabbing or working off the ice. The Pens said it would be a “fluid situation” from the start, but it’s also turned into a slowly developing situation as well.
It’s been weeks and the season is ticking away but it doesn’t look like Puljujarvi has made strides towards approaching the NHL lineup, until yesterday’s news. The AHL tryout is a step towards the conclusion for Puljujarvi and gets him out of the status of limbo he has been in the past few weeks.
The AHL deal, unlike a regular season NHL tryout, means that Puljujarvi can play games at the AHL level as the team assesses where he is and whether or not his surgically repaired hips will allow him to be an NHL caliber player. The standard AHL PTO gives them up to 25 games to figure out the next steps but it will likely be obvious to all parties a lot quicker than that if the player is physically capable of enduring the grind of a pro schedule.
The Pens used an AHL PTO with Mark Pysyk, he was similarly was practicing and rehabbing in Pittsburgh for a while during the regular season. Pysyk lasted eight games in Wilkes and reports were that it didn’t go well at all and ended up getting released. (Pysyk did sign an NHL contract with Calgary, but has been playing with their AHL affiliate).
Puljujarvi could be at a similar crossroads with this move. It could end up as a positive, if he holds up well and proves that he’s regaining his health and the ability to keep up. Or if his progress or health just isn’t there, he might meet the same end as Pysyk to fade out.
In an ideal world, Puljujarvi might have been ready to jump right into the lineup spot that Nieto has vacated, but that wasn’t to be with where he was at.
It was another virtuoso performance last night for Sidney Crosby. He scored the game winning goal in the third period on the power play — in a season where we’ve seen the power play fail at clutch moments so many times. He tacked on two more assists and won approximately a million faceoffs.
Crosby sits 20th in the league in scoring, and even though usually the MVP vote is centered around which player scores the most points, the Pens’ captain certainly is putting the word “value” on full display. It’s scary to think where this team would be without him.
"When voters for the Hart Trophy fill their ballots out, you get five names. I can't think of five people more deserving right now than Sidney Crosby." - @MikeKellyNHL— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) January 5, 2024
Should Crosby be in the Hart Trophy conversation? @ErikaWachter | @penguins | #LetsGoPens | #NHLOnTheFly pic.twitter.com/JVKjRGbAdA
Beyond the stats, here’s the play that sticks out acutely to what Crosby is all about while he guts it out at the end of a long game to beat an icing. He also held the puck behind the net to kill valuable seconds and was fighting to setup an insurance goal. It wasn’t to be, but this type of play shouldn’t fade from memory. The Pens’ leader was digging deep and showing the determination and passion that his career is known for.
Sidney Crosby had a goal, 2 assists, and kept the Penguins afloat…again, but this was probably his most important play.— Winter Tweets by Jim (@SportsingJim) January 5, 2024
End of the game, end of his shift, and he hustles to wave off the icing effectively bleeding 20 of the final 30 seconds. pic.twitter.com/a97yTWgnz0
Crosby might not be a scoring leader, but he’s 36 and on pace for close to 50 goals. If he’s able to drag the Penguins back to the playoffs, it’s fitting to consider him as valuable as anyone in the whole league.