The streaking Pittsburgh Penguins have lost their captain.
But that’s OK, they say. Not only have the Penguins grown accustomed to playing without Sidney Crosby in recent years, they also just traded for two other team captains.
Pittsburgh went through its first practice yesterday since learning that NHL scoring leader Crosby underwent surgery for a broken jaw that will keep him out of indefinitely.
Winners of 15 consecutive games, two shy of the NHL record for longest winning streak, the Penguins insist they can keep rolling without the face of their franchise.
“Obviously, it’s a huge loss and the way Sid’s been playing has been unbelievable,” winger James Neal said. “Losing him stinks, but at the same time we’ve got some good depth on this team and that gives a chance for some guys to step up, and definitely for some new guys we just acquired to step up.
“I’m sure we’ll be OK.”
Pittsburgh’s streak will be on the line tonight against Buffalo.
Crosby was still hospitalized early yesterday while his team went through a lengthy and spirited practice. It was the first time Jarome Iginla practiced with Pittsburgh after he was acquired from the Calgary Flames early Thursday. He made his Penguins game debut during Saturday’s 2-0 win over the New York Islanders.
It was during Crosby’s first shift of that game that he was struck in the mouth by a puck from Brooks Orpik’s slap shot that was deflected into an unsuspecting Crosby.
Crosby had dental work performed in addition to facial surgery and the repairing of his jaw. The team also said there would be additional procedures performed this week.
“You talk about family and our team, we learn about a string of players going over to visit Sidney, people over yesterday at the hospital seeing him,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “I don’t sense there’s any type of heads down in the room or that type of situation.”
In the week before Crosby was knocked out, the Penguins added former Flames captain Iginla and former Stars captain Brenden Morrow as well as eight-year veteran defenseman Douglas Murray via trade. Pittsburgh also welcomed back reigning league MVP Evgeni Malkin after he missed 13 of 16 games due to an upper body injury.
Even before Crosby went down, the Penguins learned they would be without their top two defensemen. Kris Letang is day to day with a lower body injury — he skated on his own before practice yesterday — and Paul Martin is out four to six weeks after breaking an unspecified bone in his upper body. Martin had surgery Sunday.
“We’ve lost some players... who aren’t with us on the ice right now, but there are capable guys in that room who are ready to go,” Bylsma said. “You saw that last game. ... Guys ready to go who know how to play and are ready to play in their absence. We saw that last game, and we’ll see it going forward.”
Crosby holds a 10-point lead in the NHL scoring race with 56 points. While he has not yet missed a game this season, the 25-year-old was limited to 22 regular-season games over the previous two calendar years because of concussion and neck issues associated with hits he sustained during consecutive games in January 2011.
As painful as this jaw and mouth injury might be, there appears to be no long-term danger to Crosby or any suspicion he will be out for an extended period — meaning multiple months. Bylsma reiterated yesterday there was no indication of any concussion symptoms for Crosby at this time.
The playoffs begin April 30.
“It’s a contact sport, that little black thing, that puck, it’s a really hard piece of rubber, and it caught him right in the right spot and it’s unfortunate,” linemate Pascal Dupuis said. “But if you look at it ... if you look at Sid, he came back (from the long absence) and played well.
“And now, it’s not a setback. It’s an injury we know he will come back 100 percent from it.”
During practice, Tyler Kennedy was slotted into Crosby’s spot as the Penguins’ No. 1 center between Dupuis and Chris Kunitz. Iginla remained on a line with Malkin and Neal, and Morrow was still with Brandon Sutter and Matt Cooke.
“We’re just trying to keep doing what we’re doing and keep playing the same way,” Sutter said. “Obviously, Sid’s a pretty special player here, but it’s an opportunity for someone — or a couple guys — to step up.
“And we’ve still got Evgeni Malkin, the MVP. I think we’ll be all right. No one needs to change their game.”
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