PENGUINS (18-6-2) at RANGERS (11-10-4)
TV: TVA, SN, ROOT, MSG
NEW YORK -- Olli Maatta is the latest player to find his name on the Pittsburgh Penguins' growing injury report.
Maatta, the Penguins' 20-year-old defenseman, will not play Monday against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The Penguins injury report already featured defenseman Kris Letang (groin) and forwards Patric Hornqvist (undisclosed), Chris Kunitz (foot fracture), Beau Bennett (lower body) and Pascal Dupuis (blood clot).
Maatta didn't make the trip to New York as coach Mike Johnston said he was kept home to get a still undisclosed injury re-evaluated. Johnston said the injury is not related to Maatta's surgery earlier this season to remove a cancerous tumor from his thyroid gland.
Robert Bortuzzo, who missed the past two games serving a suspension, will take Maatta's spot in the lineup.
"I know we've had some tough injuries but I think that's every team now, or most teams," Penguins center Brandon Sutter said. "For the first 20-something [games] we were 100 percent pretty much, and then a couple guys started going down. But that's the way it works. Nothing really new for this business."
The Penguins, though, are dealing with a rash of injuries that seems more severe than most. They will play against the Rangers without four of their top-six forwards and two of their top-four defensemen.
For the second straight game Sidney Crosby will center a line that includes Steve Downie at right wing and Nick Spaling at left wing. Downie and Spaling were third-line wings with Sutter as their center before all the injuries.
Crosby was used to playing with Kunitz and Hornqvist.
"There are times when you might look toward the net and you might have to look somewhere else, where a guy might look to find a soft spot," Crosby said. "Kunitz is a guy who is always at the net, so you get the habit of always looking there as your first thought, whereas now you might want to look beside the net, in the corner, or in the slot a little bit. That comes with time."
Evgeni Malkin is again going to be the left wing on the second line to make room for Sutter in the middle and Blake Comeau on the right side. Johnston said he was happy with the chemistry Malkin and Comeau were developing prior to all the injuries.
Malkin scored two goals as a left wing in Pittsburgh's 3-2 win against the Ottawa Senators this past Saturday. He has eight goals in 11 games, dating back to the Penguins' 3-2 shootout win against the Rangers on Nov. 15 at Consol Energy Center.
Pittsburgh's third and fourth lines feature three players (Jayson Megna, Andrew Ebbett and Rob Klinkhammer) who were not with the team at the start of the season. Megna and Ebbett are recent call-ups from the American Hockey League; the Penguins acquired Klinkhammer in a trade this past Friday.
"It's not like we can fall back on one line and say, 'Well, this line has played together for the last two years so at least we have that line intact and we can move from there,'" Johnston said. "The biggest challenge is we don't have any line that's played together, so we're moving pieces around. I'm sure for the players it's challenging, but they've been good."
The injuries haven't changed Rangers coach Alain Vigneault's views on the Penguins.
"I mean, they're one of the best teams in our division and in this conference with great players, so we need to perform well," he said.
Inconsistency has plagued the Rangers all season, but particularly in the 10 games they've played since beating the Penguins 5-0 at the Garden on Nov. 11. They are 4-4-2 since, but three of their wins have come against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Rangers have lost two in a row, including 3-2 against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, when they gave away an early 2-0 lead.
"There are a lot of parts to our game that I really like, but we haven't found a way to put it all together at the same time," Vigneault said. "We have done it in some games, but some other games the power play might be a little off, the PK might be a little off, a save here, whatever -- there always seems to be one thing stopping us from getting on a role because we have been playing some pretty good hockey. I'm hoping that [Monday night] we can have a solid game and it might be the start of something positive."
Here are the projected lineups:
Nick Spaling - Sidney Crosby - Steve Downie
Evgeni Malkin - Brandon Sutter - Blake Comeau
Zach Sill - Andrew Ebbett - Craig Adams
Rob Klinkhammer - Marcel Goc - Jayson Megna
Christian Ehrhoff - Robert Bortuzzo
Brian Dumoulin - Paul Martin
Rob Scuderi - Simon Despres
Injured: Kris Letang (groin), Patric Hornqvist (undisclosed), Chris Kunitz (foot fracture), Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Beau Bennett (lower body), Olli Maatta (undisclosed)
Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Carl Hagelin - Derek Stepan - Martin St. Louis
J.T. Miller - Kevin Hayes - Lee Stempniak
Tanner Glass - Dominic Moore - Jesper Fast
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Dan Boyle
John Moore - Kevin Klein
Injured: Chris Kreider (neck spasms)
Scratched: Anthony Duclair, Matt Hunwick
Status report: The Rangers will likely be without Kreider, who was injured in practice Sunday when he collided with Hagelin. Vigneault said Kreider woke up Monday with neck spasms and he's day-to-day. Kreider's injury opens the door for Glass to play for the first time since Nov. 26. He sat out the past four games dealing with the mumps. … Vigneault is also putting John Moore back in the lineup after making him a healthy scratch against the Red Wings. Hunwick will sit in place of Moore. … Johnston said the Penguins will have a full update on the status of Hornqvist on Tuesday.
Who's hot: Malkin has at least one point in 21 of 26 games this season, including in nine of his past 11. He leads the Penguins with 14 goals and is second behind Crosby in assists with 18 and points with 32. … Brassard has points in three straight games and five of the past six. He leads the Rangers with 13 assists and is second behind Nash in points with 21.