Led by Sidney Crosby, the Penguins have reeled off 15 straight victories and taken control of the Eastern Conference.
But early in their 2-0 victory over the New York Islanders on March 30, Penguins superstar and captain Sidney Crosby was positioning himself down low as defenseman Brooks Orpik had the puck at the blue line. Orpik wound up and took a slap shot as Crosby prepared for a tip or rebound.
Unfortunately, the shot deflected off Islander forward Brad Boyes and hit the NHL's leading scorer and best player in the jaw.
Crosby picked himself up off the ice, went to the locker room and did not return.
He was taken to the hospital, and it was revealed on Sunday that he had surgery for a broken jaw. The Penguins' Twitter account announced that Crosby would be out indefinitely. In terms of recovery, Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review estimated Crosby would be out for the remainder of the regular season and back for the playoffs.
Crosby, who missed half of the 2010-11 season and the majority of last year with a concussion, is injured once again.
If he can return by the start of the playoffs and retain his strength despite suffering an injury that will make it difficult to maintain his regular caloric intake, the Penguins should remain one of the strongest teams in the league and this won't impact their Stanley Cup chances.
However, if Crosby is not ready by the start of the postseason or not in top condition, it will be a brutal blow to the Penguins.
While they may be the most talented team in the NHL, Crosby is their best player. If they went into the postseason without him, it would be incredibly difficult to play up to expectations.
The fear of a concussion is always present any time Crosby takes a shot to the head. When a player gets hit with vulcanized rubber traveling at high speeds on the chin, a concussion is possible.
The Penguins say that tests indicate Crosby has shown no signs of concussion symptoms (via the team's Twitter account):
Shero on 87: As of last night and this morning, no sign of (concussion symptoms). We'll be cautious but no sign of that at all #Pens— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 31, 2013
The team continues to monitor the situation.
Crosby has been playing sensationally this season. He has a league-leading 56 points and was the odds-on favorite to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player. He leads Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos by 10 points.
Those individual matters are a minor concern to Crosby and the Penguins. They want to overcome postseason disappointments suffered since they last won the Stanley Cup in 2009.
The Penguins appear to be going for it at full speed this year. They have added Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow to an already stacked lineup.
But they have suffered a slew of injuries. In addition to Crosby's broken jaw and subsequent surgery, defenseman Kris Letang (broken toe) and Paul Martin (upper body) are also out of the lineup, and so is goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (neck) .
Lately, all the Penguins do is win. They are rolling at the top of the Eastern Conference, and even with the Crosby injury, it would not be surprising if the Penguins held on to their regular season position of dominance.
But the problem will come when the regular season ends April 27.
At that point, the Penguins will be preparing for the postseason. If Crosby is not back in the lineup and raring to go, the Pens will be at risk.
They might be able to survive a round without him, but they would be in a huge hole if they have to play Stanley Cup hockey without him.
The clock is ticking and the Penguins need a fast recovery from their superstar.