Missing Malkin Puts Pens on Edge
The Pittsburgh Penguins face the grim reality of having to close out the season without center Evgeni Malkin, a key element of their success this year. A borderline playoff team as it is, the Penguins chances of making the playoffs still look OK. Beyond that is questionable. Malkin went down in Friday's game at Columbus. Initial reports are that he will be missing for six to eight weeks, and that's what makes their chances so tricky.
Malkin has been a key cog in the Pittsburgh machine this year. He is second on the Penguins with 27 goals and 31 assists in 57 games. On the plus side, the Pens still have some key components to that machine, including the durable and prolific Sidney Crosby, the team leader with 29 goals, and 40 assists. Defenseman Kris Letang has 53 points, and winger Phil Kessel has contributed 45 points. Rookie Conor Sheary stepped in Sunday with two goals to lead the team to a big 5-3 road win over Metropolitan rivals the New York Rangers. Plus, the Penguins had a 5-4-1 record when Malkin was out for 10 games earlier this season.
Evgeni Malkin will have missed 138 games since 2009-10. Crosby has missed 122 since then. Letang 120.— Adam Gretz (@AGretz) March 12, 2016
But missing Malkin for up to eight weeks could be even more crucial. Going into Tuesday's home game with the New York Islanders, the Penguins had 80 points, just enough to give them the first wild card position in the Eastern Conference. The Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers were chasing them within four points. That makes the Penguins situation so precarious. If Malkin is back in six weeks, he could find his way into the second round of the playoffs. The worst case has him returning by the conference finals. Being that the Penguins have proven they can win without Malkin, I'd give them a decent chance of making the playoffs. Beyond that is another matter, since the competition will be tougher in the postseason. After all, they could get Washington, Tampa Bay or Florida in Round 1 and have to endure without Malkin. That's why I wouldn't give Pittsburgh much of a chance to make a real push this year.
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