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McKee in, Goligoski out for Pens Monday

by Dan Rosen /
NEW YORK -- The good news for Pittsburgh is Jay McKee will be back on the blue line Monday night for the first time in seven games when the Penguins play the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

The bad news is McKee, who missed the last six games with an infected finger, is replacing Alex Goligoski, the guy he would normally partner with. One in and one out is about par for the course for these Penguins, but they've learned to deal with it and even come to accept it.

"Jay McKee just got cleared to play (Sunday) and it just so happens there is a spot for him, but that's the way it's been for us," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said from the Garden. "We feel that we have depth in positions where guys can go in and play. We had that with the guys coming up from Wilkes-Barre and tonight we're fortunate that the guy going in is a good, seasoned NHL veteran."

The McKee for Goligoski trade notwithstanding, the Penguins have actually edged forward lately in their battle against injuries, which was raging earlier this month.

Over the last few weeks, Pittsburgh has gotten back Maxime Talbot (missed 21 games), Tyler Kennedy (14 games), Sergei Gonchar (12 games), Kris Letang (9 games), Evgeni Malkin (7 games), McKee (6 games) and Brooks Orpik (4 games).

Goligoski missed six games with a lower body injury before returning to play in Saturday's 8-3 win over the Rangers. He either wasn't ready or he tweaked something (possibly his groin) because he didn't even make the trip for Monday's game.

Chris Kunitz will miss his ninth-straight game with a lower body injury while Matt Cooke will serve Game 1 of his two-game suspension for his high hit on the Rangers' Artem Anisimov in Saturday's game.

"It's kind of been like this for the last month or so, so you just kind of get used to having guys come in and fill roles," captain Sidney Crosby said. "We have got a lot of guys back lately so that's a big boost for us. We seem to lose a couple along the way and we just have to keep moving on and hold things down until they all get back."

The Penguins can credit their hot start (and 27 games played, tied for most among Eastern Conference teams) for where they are right now.

They were 9-1 before Gonchar sat out his first game with the team's first major in-season injury (broken wrist). The Pens would win three of their next five games before going on a four-game losing streak from Nov. 5-12.

They weren't even close in those games, losing at Los Angeles, San Jose and Boston as well as at home against New Jersey by a combined 17-3. Talbot, Gonchar, Malkin and Kennedy missed all four of those games. Letang sat out the last two.

The Penguins have rebounded by winning six of their last eight games, including a 5-2 drubbing of the Anaheim Ducks when they were missed seven guys from the lineup.

"That's almost half your team," said Crosby, who has 14 points in the last nine games.

Kunitz is still out and Goligoski is back on the shelf, but the Penguins are nearly whole again and still find themselves in first place.

How did they do it?

"I don't think we have really let it get to us," Orpik told of the injuries. "You don't want to say you get used to it, but we kind of have. It's like this is what you're dealt, and this is what you have for the game. If we were a younger team or a little less mature I think it would affect us a little more."

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