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Pens Adapt to Michalek's Absence

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
One step forward, one step back.

That’s the situation for the Penguins on the injury front. Last Saturday as the Penguins played the New Jersey Devils, head coach Dan Bylsma had seven healthy, available defensemen for the first time this season.

That lasted all of 50 minutes. Halfway through the third period, blueliner Zbynek Michalek was hit with a shot and left the game.

Bylsma revealed Monday that he would miss 4 to 6 weeks with a broken finger.

Zbynek Michalek broke his finger and the timetable is 4 to 6 weeks,” Bylsma said.

And so the Penguins will have to adapt to playing without one of their top defensive shutdown players.

“You hate to see anything like that, but at the same time it’s part of the game and we have some other good defensemen who will step in and do a good job,” said Michalek’s defensive partner Paul Martin. “We’ve been dealing with a lot of injuries on and off, so whoever is in there has to do the job. I’m sure that will happen now.”

With Michalek out, the Penguins will have to redistribute his minutes and have re-paired their top 6:
Brooks Orpik-Deryk Engelland
Paul Martin-Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen-Ben Lovejoy

“(Michalek) plays a lot of minutes, so obviously everyone is going to have absorb a few more,” Lovejoy said. “He’s been an important part of our blue line on our team for a while. We will certainly miss him.”

But the area Michalek will be missed the most will be on the penalty kill, where he logged a team-best 3:34 shorthanded minutes per game.

Ben Lovejoy is a guy who was and is very good on the penalty kill,” Bylsma said. “He was that guy down in Wilkes-Barre for a number of years. We have players who are very comfortable playing in the penalty kill position, showing they are very good at it.

“’Z’ is exceptional at it and excels at it, but Brooks is back in there and we are going to count on some other guys to step up and do that. Guys like Kris Letang who has grown into being a penalty killer over the last couple of years is going to be relied on a little more heavily than when Z was there.”

“He is a huge piece, but all the defensemen and forwards are,” Lovejoy said. “Our goaltenders are the biggest part of that. They’ve been great all year, but 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 that we want to continue even without ‘Z’ there.”

Dealing with injuries is nothing new for this club, which has played the early parts of this season without Sidney Crosby (10 games), Evgeni Malkin (7), Brooks Orpik (8), Dustin Jeffrey (8) and Tyler Kennedy (4).

And what’s more, the Penguins suffered 350 man-games lost last season with Crosby (41), Malkin (39) and Staal (39) each missing half the year.

“It’s tough when you don’t have some of your key guys,” Martin said. “Last year, we were missing a couple of guys and we still found a way to win some games down the stretch. It’s tough, but you’ve got to move on and try to find a way to win.”

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