How Evgeni Malkin's Latest Injury Will Affect the Pittsburgh Penguins
The team announced an update on his status Sunday night via Twitter:
MALKIN UPDATE: Upper-body injury. 1-2 weeks out approx, per coach Bylsma.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 11, 2013
Malkin suffered the injury during Saturday night's game in Toronto when he was hit by Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk and collided with side boards near the red line. The good news is that this injury is unrelated to the concussion he dealt with earlier in the season.
When Malkin was out of the lineup with a concussion last month, linemate James Neal moved up to the first line with Sidney Crosby, but with the Penguins' top line firing on all cylinders over the last week, it wouldn't be smart for head coach Dan Bylsma to break up the Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis trio.
These three players combined for five goals and seven assists in Pittsburgh's 6-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Sunday.
Without Malkin on the second line, Brandon Sutter will move up from the third line to play center between Neal and rookie forward Beau Bennett. Sutter has been fantastic in his first season with the Penguins and is certainly capable of creating scoring opportunities for Neal, who is tied for the team lead in goals scored with 17.
Pittsburgh's offense shouldn't struggle too much without Malkin, even though he's one of the best playmakers in the league. The Penguins lead the NHL in goals scored and also have the third-best power play.
Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz rank first and third in the league in scoring, respectively, and defenseman Kris Letang leads all blueliners in scoring. Pittsburgh's scoring depth will help it win games while Malkin is out, but it will certainly miss his defense at center.
Malkin is known for his goal-scoring and playmaking ability, but he's an underrated defensive forward who plays a physical game and creates turnovers. He leads the Penguins with 17 takeaways and is one of three players on the team who has taken 100 or more faceoffs this season.
Sutter will do a tremendous job defensively on the second line because he is the Penguins' best defensive center and one of the team's most important penalty killers. He ranks fifth on the team in blocked shots, fifth in takeaways and ranks third among forwards in shorthanded time on ice (2:00).
In the short-term, the Penguins shouldn't have any trouble winning games while Malkin works his way back to the lineup, but now that he has suffered two different upper-body injuries this season, general manager Ray Shero would be wise to look for a veteran forward in the trade market.
The Penguins only have two reliable forward lines when they have Malkin healthy and in the lineup, and in the regular season, that is not a huge concern. But when the playoffs begin, Pittsburgh will need at least three lines that can be relied on to produce offensively and create scoring chances.
It wouldn't hurt to add a little more scoring depth for the playoffs in case Malkin or another one of the Penguins' top six forwards suffers an injury after the April 3 trade deadline.
Now that Bennett has earned a spot on the NHL roster, there aren't any more forwards in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton who are capable of playing a top-nine role and contributing offensively for the Penguins.
Which kind of player should the Penguins acquire at the deadline?
Gagner is versatile enough to play at center or on the wings for the Penguins, and since Pittsburgh has a surplus of what the Oilers need the most (top-tier defensive prospects), the two teams would probably be able to work out a deal if there was interest from both sides.
Acquiring Gagner would give Pittsburgh another winger for its top-six forward group or a great second-line center for whenever Malkin is injured. He's only 23 years old and leads Edmonton with 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists).
Malkin's injury will allow the Penguins to see what Sutter can provide the team in a more important role and also allow other role players to earn more ice time, which will give Bylsma a better idea of which guys he can trust in the playoffs.
Don't expect Pittsburgh to start losing games because of Malkin's absence, but his injury should serve as a wake-up call to management and make Shero think about adding another top-six forward to give his team additional scoring depth for another Stanley Cup run.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs. All salary cap information courtesy of Capgeek.
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