With two of their leaders injured and out of the lineup and a third in another city, the Penguins were left with a huge void.
Yet, it’s no surprise to the team that players have stepped up to fill the holes left on and off the ice.
Only one of the team’s captains – Sergei Gonchar – remains on the Penguins’ active roster. Captain Sidney Crosby has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain since Jan. 18. while Gary Roberts, who shared an alternate captaincy with Gonchar, has been out since Dec. 29 with a broken leg. The team’s other alternate captain at the start of the year – Mark Recchi – is now playing in Atlanta.
So, Ryan Malone and Darryl Sydor have been selected as alternate captains and pegged with the task of helping to guide the Penguins until Crosby and Roberts return to the ice.
However, the two know it takes more of a group effort, rather than any individual, to help make up for the leadership void.
“It’s a great honor. I have never been officially told by a coach that I am going to wear an A. It’s an honor to wear it with this group of young men,” Sydor said. “I am not going to change my game; I am still going to be myself. What has really opened my eyes is how everyone else has picked it up and picked their leadership role up a bit. Sidney picked his up before he was hurt and Colby Armstrong has and Ryan Malone has and Rob Scuderi has on defense and Ryan Whitney – everybody is taking all this adversity we’ve had and learned from it and gone forward.”
To have the “A” on his jersey is very special to Malone. He grew up in Pittsburgh and has been a Penguins fan his entire life. After all, his father, Greg, played for the Penguins and worked as an organizational scout here for many years.
“It’s a huge honor,” Malone said. “I still feel a lot of pride every time I put on that Penguins jersey. This honor and responsibility is something I take very seriously. I am glad to be recognized as a leader and I’ll do whatever I can to help the team. But, we need everyone to keep picking it up while we battle through all these injuries.”
It marks the first time in their NHL careers that Malone and Sydor have both been awarded with a “permanent” letter on their jerseys.
“I had an A in Columbus and Dallas a little bit through injury, but never when a coach came to me and said it was going to be a thing for the time being,” Sydor said. “Before we played in the Winter Classic in Buffalo, Coach Therrien spoke to both of us and let us know about it. It’s a great honor.”
The move is no surprise for Sydor, one of the Penguins’ most-experienced players on the active roster. The 35-year-old defenseman joined the team as a free agent this summer and has fit in with the group. He brings a wealth of experience, including a pair of Stanley Cup championships, to the team.
“Having Darryl here has been great for us,” Malone said. “We all respect him and know he’s been through the battles before. We’ve all learned a lot from him.”
Meanwhile, Malone, 28, is blooming into a solid power forward for the Penguins as well as a leader.
“There is a lot going on with him – he’s come a long way and he’s being consistent and playing well and he’s a big leader,” Sydor said. “I think a lot of the guys look up to him.”
Sydor’s experience is an added bonus to the Penguins’ defensive corps. Sydor, along with Gonchar, have helped mentor the young blueliners.
“I can’t speak for them. But, when I was younger, I wanted to get better; I wanted to be a leader on a daily basis at practice and off the ice and in games,” Sydor said. “What I tried to do when I was younger was I tried to look at Craig Ludwig and Guy Carbonneau and Brian Skrudland and Charlie Huddy and these guys I played alongside and saw what their demeanor was like. If your ears and eyes are open, you learn from it and it makes you better.”
Sydor is not much of a cheerleader. However, he tries to set the tone with his work ethic on and off the ice.
“I probably haven’t spoken as much as I used to, but the other side of it is that you can’t speak unless you have action,” he said. “I am trying to just focus on my action. As long as I am working hard on the ice and good things are happening, then it’s easier to be a leader that way. Words are one thing, but you need to walk the talk.”
Sydor knows the Penguins have had good leadership models to follow. And, even though the team has one of the youngest rosters in the league, Sydor believes the leadership traits are evident already.
“Yeah, I think a lot of guys saw the professionalism our leaders have and they take that as a learning experience and they see what Gary Roberts does here on a daily basis,” he said. “That’s a good thing that they have their eyes and their ears open and they want to learn. Sooner or later, these guys are going to have to step up and be leaders.”
That time is now for the Penguins.