The Penguins entered Monday’s tilt against the visiting Blue Jackets without three of their better defensemen (the injured Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik) and one of their best forwards (the suspended James Neal). They’re also without forward Tanner Glass and goalie Tomas Vokoun, both of whom are on the injured reserve.
If this injury-riddled fate befell certain other NHL teams, they’d be forgiven for withering in its wake. But in Pittsburgh, as long as either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin is in the lineup, the Pens have got a decent chance to win.
Furthermore, when both superstars are playing, as they were against Columbus, the Pens have a better-than-decent chance; in this case, Crosby and Malkin provided all the offense Pittsburgh needed (or could muster) in a 2-1 win over the Jackets.
The game was the first for Malkin after missing two games with a lower body injury, but he looked none the worse for wear in scoring the first goal of the night.
Crosby, meanwhile, deflected a Pascal Dupuis shot midway through the third period to extend the home team’s lead; and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 32 of 33 Columbus shots to push the Penguins into first overall in the Eastern Conference and tie them with the Blackhawks for the most wins (21) of any NHL team. That is astonishing, because entering Monday’s game, Pittsburgh had lost 138 man-games to injury this season, an average of 4.45 per game (and up from 1.7 in 2012-13).
Yes, the organizational depth GM Ray Shero has accrued hasn’t hurt the Penguins, but don’t kid yourself. Without at least one of their two most dominant players on the ice, there’s no chance Pittsburgh pulls ahead of the Bruins, Ducks and Sharks in the wins department as they did Monday. They’re deep, but they’re not that deep.
No, this team belongs to its two big boys. You can claw at the rest of the roster, but if one of Crosby or Malkin are skating, you’ll need all you can muster and then some to knock off the Pens.