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Malkin out at least two months of regular season for Penguins

Center recovering from June 4 knee surgery

by Wes Crosby / Independent Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Evgeni Malkin will be out for at least the first two months of the regular season for the Pittsburgh Penguins while the center recovers from knee surgery.

Malkin, who had surgery June 4, sustained the injury last season against the Boston Bruins on March 16 before returning May 3. He played four games before being sidelined for the first two games of the Stanley Cup First Round against the New York Islanders.

Malkin returned with two assists in Game 3. He had five points (one goal, four assists) in the best-of-7 series, which the Penguins lost in six games. 

The Penguins likely will be without their top two centers to start the regular season. Sidney Crosby had wrist surgery Sept. 8 with an expected recovery timeframe of at least six weeks.

"We're up against it. We all know it," Penguins general manager Ron Hextall said Thursday. "We're going to have some guys that will have an opportunity to show us some things that they probably wouldn't otherwise. We need some guys to step up. Just seeing the chemistry of our group last year, there's a good feel this year. I think we all know we're up against it. I think our guys are ready for the challenge."

Jeff Carter likely will begin the season as the top center.

"I mean, I'm not going to replace them," Carter said. "I think it's going to have to be throughout the lineup. I'll try to do my part to alleviate some of that pressure, but we're going to need it from everybody. It's the two best players on the team. So it's going to be a big task for everybody, but I think it will be fun."

If Crosby is out for the minimum six weeks, he would miss the first four games of the regular season. The Penguins open the season at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 12.

Crosby, who had surgery on the same wrist Aug. 31, 2020, skated on his own before Pittsburgh's first training camp practice Thursday. 

Jake Guentzel, who is normally the left wing on a line with Crosby, skated with Carter and Danton Heinen at right wing Thursday. After finishing last season as a right wing with Malkin, Kasperi Kapanen started camp with center Radim Zohorna and left wing Jason Zucker.

"I think you just have to kind of know what they bring to the table everyday to practice and games," Guentzel said. "So some of us might have to pick it up a little bit. We have to do it by committee. Two superstar players. But I think we know we have the players to do it. ... I think we're all excited for the opportunity because people might be able to play different spots."

Malkin is entering the final season of an eight-year, $76 million contract ($9.5 million average annual value) signed June 13, 2013 and can become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

After scoring 74 points (25 goals, 49 assists) in 55 games in 2019-20, Malkin averaged an NHL career-low 0.85 points per game last season, finishing with 28 points (eight goals, 20 assists) in 33 games. He scored 12 points (four goals, eight assists) during an eight-game point streak that ended when he was injured against Boston. 

Malkin is third in Penguins history with 1,104 points and 680 assists, and fourth in goals with 424. He is second in games (940) behind Crosby (1,039) and has won the Stanley Cup three times (2009, 2016, 2017).

"Obviously, when you lose players of that stature like Sid and Geno for a time, it's hard to replace those guys both in the locker room and on the ice," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "And how they perform. But we have guys that bring a lot of leadership to the table, that understand the circumstance that we're in and understand their role and their responsibility in stepping up and filling that void from a leadership standpoint."

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