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Pens' injuries grow: Michalek out 4-6 weeks

by Alan Robinson
PITTSBURGH -- Defenseman Zbynek Michalek is the latest name added to the Pittsburgh Penguins' ever-lengthening injury list, with a broken finger that is expected to sideline him for 4-6 weeks.
Michalek was hurt while blocking a shot by the Devils' Rod Pelley during Pittsburgh's 4-1 victory on Saturday -- or just when the division-leading Penguins finally had a full complement of defensemen. Brooks Orpik returned Thursday against Montreal after being out eight games with a sports hernia.
"He plays a lot of minutes," defenseman Ben Lovejoy said of Michalek. "Obviously, everybody is going to have to absorb a few more. We'll certainly miss him."
Michalek, who was struck on the right hand, apparently will not need surgery.
Michalek joins star centers Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (right knee soreness), forward Tyler Kennedy (concussion) and defenseman Brian Strait (hyperextended elbow) among the injured Penguins. Kennedy, coming off a career-high 21-goal season, hasn't practiced since getting hurt Oct. 15 against Buffalo. Forward Dustin Jeffrey (knee) also was out the first eight games.
While Crosby is participating in full practices, he still hasn't played since Jan. 5 and his return date remains uncertain. Malkin, off to a strong start with a goal and 3 assists in three games, has missed five consecutive games, although he also practiced Monday. He was out the final 2 ½ months of last season with two torn right knee ligaments.
Missing Crosby alone would be difficult for any team. Add in Malkin, the NHL's leading scorer and Conn Smythe Trophy winner when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2008-09, plus Orpik, Kennedy and now Michalek, and their depth and resiliency are being severely tested.
"It's nice to have a healthy team," defenseman Paul Martin said. "Hopefully, sometime during this year, we get one."
For all their injuries, the Penguins aren't having any problem winning -- they're 6-2-2 with a three-game winning streak and at least one point earned in all but two games. What's proving difficult is finding enough players healthy to keep on winning.
They have played only two games with each of their top three centers -- Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal -- since an Eastern Conference Semifinals series against Montreal in 2010. All three missed about half of last season, although the Penguins overcame their absence to accumulate 106 points, the second most in their history.
"It's tough," Martin said. "But you've got to move on and try to find a way to win."
The Penguins' 350 total man-games lost to injury ranked seventh in the NHL last season, and they already have 39 this season. Malkin's status for Tuesday night's game at the Islanders is uncertain; he looked ready to return after participating in the morning skate Saturday, only to be scratched that night.
Michalek's injury will require even more lineup maneuvering -- especially on the League-best penalty-killing unit -- by coach Dan Bylsma, who hasn't had the luxury of working with a full roster in 18 months.
Michalek, who had a goal and 2 assists in 10 games,  has been paired with Martin since the two signed with Pittsburgh before the 2010-11 season.
"You hate to see anybody get hurt," Martin said. "But it's a part of the game and we have some other good defensemen who will step in and do the job. We've been dealing with a lot of injuries, so whoever is in there has to do the job."
During Monday's practice, Martin  was paired with Kris Letang, while Orpik was with Deryk Engelland and Matt Niskanen was with Lovejoy.

"You develop a certain level of comfort when you spend that much time paired with a certain guy," Martin said. "You start to realize where they are going to be and what you are going to do. But the way we play, that's going to be OK playing with another guy. For me, personally, it doesn't matter who I play with."
Lovejoy was a healthy scratch against the Devils, and Bylsma doesn't anticipate recalling another defenseman from Wilkes-Barre Scranton (AHL).
"He's a huge piece for us," Lovejoy said of Michalek. "But the defensemen and forwards are, too, and our goaltenders are the biggest part of that. They've especially been impressive on the penalty kill. We've given up one penalty-kill goal. We take pride in that as a team and as a penalty-killing unit. It's something we want to continue even without Z there."
The Penguins had the NHL's top penalty-killing unit last season,  and lead the league again after permitting a lone power-play goal in 33 attempts (97 percent) -- and that was during a 4-on-3 situation.
"Z is exceptional at it and excels at it, but Brooks is back in there and we are going to have to count on some other guys to step up and do that," Bylsma said. "Kris Letang has grown into being a penalty killer that last couple of years and he is going to be relied on a little more heavily."
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