The Penguins suffered yet another big blow on Sunday when they learned that top-six winger Patric Hornqvist will be out the next few weeks after leaving Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury.
Hornqvist joins an already-long list of injured/sick players that includes defensemen Paul Martin, Christian Ehrhoff and Olli Maatta, forwards Craig Adams, Beau Bennett, Blake Comeau, Steve Downie, Pascal Dupuis, Zach Sill and Scott Wilson and goaltender Thomas Greiss.
But despite everything they’re dealing with – and it’s certainly a whole heck of a lot – the Penguins still have their core group of players in the lineup, headlined by franchise centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. And while those two can’t do it all themselves, they do know they’re the ones who have to step up and lead their team through all the injuries.
“It’s a bad loss yesterday (losing) ‘Horny,’” Malkin said. “Of course it’s a tough time right now, every game we lose a couple guys, but we still have a good team. ‘Flower’ (Marc-Andre Fleury) is playing very well and me, ‘Sid,’ ‘Kuni’ (Chris Kunitz) and ‘Tanger’ (Kris Letang), we just (need to) show how we can play.”
Malkin has been steadily producing and has been quietly one of the NHL's best players so far this season. The 28-year-old has yet to go consecutive games without a point, and currently ranks fourth in the league with 41 while his 16 goals lead the team. But despite everything he’s done so far, Malkin still feels like he can do more.
“It’s not my best, but I feel good,” Malkin said. “I think I’m skating well and lots of power. Just now, it’s time to maybe a little bit take more time to play with the puck. Just take the puck and play my game. … I just want to show my best every game.”
Conversely, Crosby’s been mired in a slump. He started the season hot with an NHL-leading 23 points (and eight goals) in his first 17 games, but has since dropped off with just two goals in his last 15 outings.
But while the puck isn’t finding the back of the net for Crosby right now, the positive is that he’s creating magnificent chances. The only thing the 27-year-old would change about what he’s doing right now is “just burying it,” plain and simple.
“I’ve had some pretty good looks,” Crosby said. “Handful of breakaways. A few empty nets, too. So I think just burying those chances. I don’t think it’s anything to do with the velocity or location (of shots), necessarily. I think it’s just finishing a play.”
Crosby had especially awful luck against the Capitals on Saturday. He was stopped on a breakaway and then on two separate occasions, his stick exploded into pieces as he was lining up one-timers on the power play (and he had a wide-open net on one of those). It could be easy to get frustrated, but Crosby said that’s just not something he can allow himself to do.
“You’ve got to go out there and work hard and compete,” he said. “You’ve got to trust that the puck will go in the net, so I don’t think that really solves anything getting frustrated. It probably makes things worse, so you just got to make sure you go out there and compete and give yourself a chance.
“You’ve just got to make sure you keep fighting and go to the right spot. You can’t allow bad habits to creep in to change much. Chances are there so eventually they’ll go in.”
While his captain may not be scoring right now, that doesn’t concern Malkin. He said this morning that the team’s focus needs to be on their play in their own zone, not necessarily on posting big numbers down at the other end.
“First of all, it’s the defensive zone,” Malkin said. “We can’t score five, six goals every game. We need to start playing more defensive zone and if we win 1-0, it’s a good win for us, too. We just need to play patient and smart.”
The Penguins have lost three in a row, but it’s certainly no time to panic as they rank first in the Eastern Conference and have the third-highest points total in the entire NHL. They have just eight regulation losses through 35 games. But the Penguins do need to start getting back on track, and Crosby and Malkin will be the ones looking to right the ship starting tomorrow in Newark.