The Pittsburgh Penguins’ top line looked a little different Thursday night against New Jersey.
So did the second line.
The Penguins played without superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup for the first time since the 2006-07 season, a span of 437 straight games.
New Jersey won consecutive games for the third time this season, jumping out to an early lead on its first shot, to defeat the Penguins 2-0 on Thursday and snap Pittsburgh‘s modest three-game winning streak.
Crosby has missed seven games with what is being described as a mild concussion. Malkin has only missed one recently, but was out of the lineup four straight games in December with a knee injury.
Though he played 15 minutes and 50 seconds in a 4-1 win against Detroit on Tuesday, it is believed that Malkin re-injured his knee during Saturday’s victory at Boston.
The severity of the injury and the amount of time that Malkin will this time around is unknown. Still no word on Crosby’s return either, but he hasn’t ruled out playing in next week’s All-Star game.
Injuries have stung the Penguins since a 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals at the Winter Classic.
The Penguins have only played two games, including the Winter Classic, with their top three centers – Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal – together in the lineup. One of those games was a lopsided 8-1 blowout against Tampa Bay on Jan. 5. That was the last time Crosby, Malkin, and Staal were together.
Staal was the victim of bad luck earlier in the season as he missed the first 39 games of the year, recovering from an infection in his foot and a broken hand.
Now it looks like Crosby and Malkin are dealing with injuries, which isn’t a bad thing – as long as they aren’t continuing to battle when the playoffs approach.
Still, the current misfortune will give others an opportunity to pick up the slack with Crosby and Malkin out.
Staal, who has appeared in just nine games, wasted little time producing after missing the first half of the season. Prior to Thursday night’s game, Staal scored in three straight, including the game-winners at Montreal and Boston. Though he didn’t register a point in his first five games, Staal has six points in his last four.
Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke – reunited with Staal in the wake of the current injuries – also helped the Penguins during their recent three-game stretch. The duo has combined for seven points since Jan. 10 with Kennedy recording four and Cooke three.
Forward Chris Conner did his part, becoming the first Penguin to successfully convert a penalty shot since 2007 during the team’s 4-1 victory Tuesday against Detroit. The Penguins are 22-6-3 with Conner in the lineup.
Chris Kunitz, one of Crosby’s linemates, has flourished despite the absence of the Penguins‘captain. Prior to Thursday night, Kunitz had goals in three straight games and eight in his last 13. Kunitz ranks second on the team behind Crosby with 16 goals.
This doesn’t mean the Penguins don’t need Crosby or Malkin. If they want to win a second Stanley Cup in three seasons they will need to lean on their two superstars.
However, playing multiple games without Crosby or Malkin – or both – in the lineup will only help as contributions from role players like Kunitz, Kennedy, Cooke, Conner, and others are a must if they want to make an extended playoff run.
***In addition to his work here at FTP, Dan Scifo is also the Assistant Sports Editor for the Latrobe Bulletin.