PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins may be feeling the Crosby Effect.
For the first time all season, the Penguins aren't looking like the team that has been remarkably resilient and successful without Sidney Crosby in their lineup during most of calendar year 2011. With injuries also recently to players such as defensemen Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek and center Jordan Staal, the Penguins were 1-4-0 in their last five games going into a Saturday night game against Buffalo.
The Penguins haven't dropped as many as five games in a six-game span without any overtime or shootout defeats since they lost six of seven from Dec. 21, 2009 through Jan. 3, 2010.
The injury situation didn’t improve against the Sabres. Defenseman Paul Martin was ruled out because of an unspecified lower body injury that occurred during a 6-4 loss in Ottawa on Friday.
The Martin injury meant the Penguins were likely to be without three of their top four defensemen -- Letang, Michalek and Martin -- against Buffalo, which won in Pittsburgh 3-2 on Oct. 15. Only Brooks Orpik was certain to be in the lineup. This will be the first game Martin has missed this season.
“It’s day to day (for Martin) at this point in time,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
Due to the injuries, the Penguins recalled forward Jason Williams and defenseman Carl Sneep to oppose Buffalo. Williams was recalled several times previously this season, but the 24-year-oid Sneep will be making his NHL debut. A second-round pick in 2006, he had nine assists and a plus-6 rating in 27 games at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (NHL), which plays the same system as the parent Penguins.
“Carl, making his first NHL appearance, his first NHL game, there’s a certain amount of anxiety and nerves that go along with that,” Bylsma said. “But I do think he has gained some confidence knowing exactly what is expected of (him) and exactly what to do on the ice. Everything he hears today won’t be new for Carl.”
Pittsburgh has recalled four players from Wilkes-Barre in the last two days; Williams, Sneep, forward Eric Tangradi and defenseman Alexandre Picard.
What is complicating the Penguins' injury situation is that Crosby, Letang and Michalek all have a concussion or concussion-related symptoms, which means it is uncertain when they can return.
Michalek, for example, looked to be ready to play against Ottawa on Friday night, only to report that he was still being bothered by headaches.
"You don't know if a guy is going to be one week, two weeks or out longer," Bylsma said. "That uncertainty makes it tough to plan in terms of down the road. You have an injury that typically takes two or three weeks and a timeframe that you know, and you can plan for the month of December to be without a guy with a broken foot. You know that. The uncertainty is difficult."
Crosby, for example, initially skipped games against the Flyers and Islanders last week for precautionary reasons -- he was experiencing headaches -- but he has not practiced or played since. The Penguins are dropping no hints when he might return.
Bylsma said Saturday that neither Crosby nor Letang (out since Nov. 26) has resumed skating.
Crosby has played in only eight games of 73 games over the last 50 weeks. The Penguins are 35-22-8 without him over the last two seasons, but are a not-as-good 12-9-3 this season. And they are 7-8-1 since they beat Dallas 3-1 on Nov. 11, a period that includes their 5-2-1 record with Crosby in the lineup; they have lost six of their last eight without him.