On Jan. 18, 2008, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby slammed feet-first into the boards after a collision with Paul Ranger of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The injury kept Crosby out for two months, but all was not lost.
Evgeni Malkin was ready to carry the load, and he proceeded to record 54 points in the time that Crosby was out of the lineup. His performance not only kept the Penguins in the playoff hunt, but led the team to an Atlantic Division title.
This time, it will be the other way around.
Crosby will have to carry the Penguins once more in Malkin's absence.
In a shock announcement by coach Dan Bylsma, the Conn Smythe winner will miss two to three weeks with a strained shoulder. The injury apparently isn't a new one, as Malkin has been playing with some discomfort for over a week.
"I can play good, but it's early in the season." said Malkin. "I feel good. It's not a big problem and I'm fine. I'll be watching and supporting the team on the trip."
Although Malkin attempted to reassure Penguin fans, the fact still remains: The Penguins will face some major tests on their West Coast road trip and they will be without the NHL's leading scorer from a season ago.
He will be watching in the luxury box, sitting next to the growing list of injured Penguins that includes fellow Russian Sergei Gonchar and Game Seven hero Max Talbot .
Not a place for a superstar.
Currently, the Penguins sit at 10-2-0 with 20 points and lead the Eastern Conference. But can they keep up the torrid pace, despite the building injuries?
With precautionary treatment, Malkin should return to the lineup just before Thanksgiving, after some rest and rehabilitation. But that is the very problem. In that time, the Penguins face some very challenging competition. Their West Coast trip sees them visit the Kings, Sharks, Ducks, and then the Bruins on Versus.
Although Malkin is tied for the team lead in points, he only has four goals on the season, three of those scores coming on the man advantage. But in the 12 games so far, he has not been a dominant force in a lot of those. Especially over the last few games with the injury, in which he has only scored once since the overtime win in Carolina.
Meanwhile, Crosby has been on fire, scoring five goals in the last three.
In Malkin's absence, look for Luca Caputi to receive a call-up, as he has played tremendous hockey with Wilkes-Barre so far. The lines will also need restructuring, as Jordan Staal looks to see considerable more ice time in the next few weeks.
Crosby's line will also need to continue it's fine play of late. With Chris Kunitz finding traction, Bylsma will need to rely on his top guns even more.
The injury is not serious, nor should be the level of panic among fans. While losing Malkin is a gigantic loss, if there is a good place to lose him, this is it. Quite obviously, he could play through the injury, so it is nothing serious. He needs to sit for a few weeks. When you play better than 250 straight games in the NHL, black and blues are bound to happen.
As for the team, their depth will be tested.
Crosby can carry the team, but secondary scorers will need to shine. Tyler Kennedy remains out with an undisclosed injury, but hopefully he can return by the weekend, as the Penguins will need his goal-scoring more than ever.
Get well soon, Evgeni, and let's hope that the Penguins can find a way to get through the next few weeks.