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Fantasy Spin: Penguins' Malkin out; Cullen into top six

Top-five forward out two games; fantasy owners stand by

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / NHL.com Fantasy Insider

Matt Cullen Goal (02.02.16)

Matt Cullen scores to make it 1-0 Penguins

Matt Cullen scores to make it 1-0 Penguins over the Ottawa Senators.

  • 00:23 •

Few forwards have been more valuable than Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin this season, so any absence is a cause for fantasy concern. 

Malkin (C/RW, 100 percent owned in Yahoo) is dealing with a lower-body injury and has been ruled out for the Penguins' next two games: Friday at the Tampa Bay Lightning and Saturday at the Florida Panthers. He ranks second in the NHL in power-play points (23) behind Patrick Kane, is among the top 10 in goals (23; T-7th) and points (49; T-6th), and also covers the standard categories of shots on goal (140; 41st) and penalty minutes (57; T-25th). 

He's sixth based on performance among all players in Yahoo and fourth among forwards by NHL.com, and was centering Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin prior to his injury. The Penguins are in the middle of the pack for the season with 2.57 goals per game (17th), but have the fourth-most goals League-wide in the past month with 36 in 11 games (3.27).

How does Malkin's injury affect Pittsburgh's top-six forward group? The impact becomes more and more severe the longer his absence. Nick Bonino, who has played top-six minutes in the past with the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks, remains out with a hand injury. Another center option, Eric Fehr, has a lower-body injury and is expected to miss about a month. The Penguins got Chris Kunitz back from injury Tuesday in their six-goal outburst against the Ottawa Senators, so the line of Sidney Crosby, Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist at least is in good shape. 

Who will center Hagelin and Kessel? It's likely going to be veteran journeyman Matt Cullen (one percent owned) in the short term. Cullen, 39, has played some top-six minutes in recent weeks and scored Tuesday against Ottawa. He has 10 SOG in his past two games and will likely take Malkin's place on the second line over the weekend. Cullen has never hit 50 points in a season, but is more than capable of keeping the Penguins afloat during their push for the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- again, as long as Malkin is not out much longer than this weekend. 

As for Malkin, he's listed as day-to-day in Yahoo leagues and eligible for an IR+ spot if your league has that setting. Even if you're forced to just stash him on your bench through the weekend, do not even consider dropping or trading him until a further injury update is provided.

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