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Pens Still Deadly Without Crosby

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

You could feel it when the play happened.

The collective heart of Penguins fans everywhere, and especially the CONSOL Energy Center record crowd of 18,673, sank after a Brooks Orpik slap shot deflected into the mouth of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby 87 seconds into the team’s Saturday afternoon game against the New York Islanders.

James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Simon Despres
(Getty Images)

Crosby, who leads the NHL in scoring with 56 points (15G-41A), left the game and went to the hospital to have surgery to repair a broken jaw and underwent major dental work. He is currently out of the lineup indefinitely.

But Sidney Crosby will be back. The team isn’t sure when – they’re hoping to have some idea of a timeline later in the week – but general manager Ray Shero sounded optimistic after visiting his captain in the hospital Sunday.

In the meantime, the Penguins play on.

It’s a huge blow to any team that loses its best player, especially when its best player is also the best player in the world. But this isn’t any team.

“It’s a huge loss,” James Neal said. “The way ‘Sid’ has been playing is unbelievable. We have good depth on this team. It gives guys a chance to step up, especially the new guys. I think we’ll be OK.”

While the Penguins would always prefer to have Crosby in the lineup, they still have a pretty potent collection of talent in Evgeni Malkin (himself an NHL MVP and two-time scoring champion), James Neal (a 40-goal scorer), Jarome Iginla (one scoring title and two goal-scoring titles), Chris Kunitz, Brenden Morrow, Brandon Sutter and Pascal Dupuis.

The Penguins have played a third of the season without Malkin due to injuries, but still boast the NHL’s No. 1 ranked offense with 3.36 goals per game. Scoring has never been a problem for the Penguins, no matter who is in the lineup.

And for that matter, winning has never been a problem either.

During his two-year recovery from a concussion, Crosby missed 101 total games. Still the Penguins won 49 games for 106 points in 2010-11 and won 51 games for 108 points in 2011-12 (both seasons they finished second overall in the Eastern Conference).

On the current campaign, the Penguins sit in the top spot in the Eastern Conference with 56 points (seven ahead of Montreal), thanks in part to its historical and active 15-game winning streak. Even if Pittsburgh gets overtaken for the top spot in the East, it is guaranteed to finish no further than second in the conference considering it has a 17-point lead in the Atlantic Division and an 18-point lead on Winnipeg, the Southeast Division leader.

There will be adjustments with Crosby out. The Penguins elevated Tyler Kennedy from the fourth line and into the top-line center between Kunitz and Dupuis. The trio practiced at CONSOL Energy Center Monday afternoon.

“I played center in juniors,” Kennedy said. “It’s a little more work (in my own end), going back and protecting the net and getting pucks down low. I’ve got two linemates to help me and I’m looking forward to it.”

When Crosby is healthy the top three lines look as follows:

With Kennedy assuming Crosby’s duties on the top line, that keeps the second and third groupings together, allowing them a month to build some chemistry heading into the playoffs.

And when Crosby returns, it shouldn’t take long for him to gel with longtime linemates Kunitz and Dupuis. When that happens is still unknown.

What is known is that Crosby will be back.

And in the meantime, the Penguins will be fine.

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