The Pittsburgh Penguins have already shown they can thrive without one of their superstars, and they’re hoping to prove it again.
The Penguins likely won’t have Evgeni Malkin available for a three-game road trip that begins Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers, losers of five straight at home.
Pittsburgh (13-6-0) won its first game since Malkin was nudged into the boards by Erik Gudbranson in a 3-1 home victory over Florida on Friday. Sidney Crosby had two goals and an assist in a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday and Beau Bennett scored his first NHL goal.
The Penguins announced that same night that Malkin has short-term memory loss and was diagnosed with a concussion. Coach Dan Bylsma told the team’s website that the reigning league MVP has not experienced headaches or disorientation since the injury.
“There are times where guys go down and other guys have to jump in,” center Brandon Sutter said. “We hope (Malkin) not going to be (out) too long. He’s a big part of our team, but there are a few of us that can step up.”
Pittsburgh went 63-36-9 during the 108 games, including the playoffs, that Crosby missed with concussions over the previous two seasons. Crosby sat out 60 games last season and has bounced back by putting himself among the league leaders with 28 points.
He’s collected four goals and seven assists during a 5-1-0 stretch but had a rare game without a point against the Panthers on Friday. Crosby has 13 goals and 13 assists in 22 career matchups, and has scored in each of his last three trips to Florida.
The Panthers have not been enjoying as much success in their home rink lately, having been outscored 7-1 in their last two there.
Not even a 17-8 shot advantage in the third period could help the Panthers in a 4-1 defeat to visiting Boston on Sunday. Tomas Kopecky had his team’s lone goal in the opening frame.
“There’s a clear understanding of how we have to play. We can preach it and ask it, but now it’s time for more direct action,” coach Kevin Dineen said.
The Panthers (5-9-4) have dropped seven of eight at home, and their 0-2-3 stretch there puts them on the verge of matching a six-game skid (0-4-2) from Dec. 22, 2007-Jan. 13, 2008.
The Penguins, 8-2-0 on the road, are 18-5-0 in their last 23 matchups with the Panthers and have won three of four in Florida.
With goaltender Jacob Markstrom reportedly having been sent down to the AHL, the Panthers might turn to Jose Theodore, who hasn’t started since Feb. 18. Theodore was benched after allowing 15 goals over a four-game stretch but is 20-3-3 with a tie and a 2.15 goals-against average in his last 27 against Pittsburgh.
Whoever starts for the Panthers is hoping to avoid the 40-23 shot disparity from Friday.
Marc-Andre Fleury was between the pipes for Pittsburgh, and is riding a five-game winning streak with a 2.00 GAA. He also has a 1.30 GAA in winning his last six starts versus Florida.