The Penguins secured a pretty good win over the Red Wings tonight but at what cost. The Penguins came into the game being pretty banged up and we learned right before puck drop that Kris Letang was a scratch for unknown reasons. It was floated out there that he wasn't feeling great (injury wise) and with him out that meant the Penguins top four defenseman were out of the game.
That was just on the defensive side tonight. Maybe the bigger loss tonight was Evgeni Malkin. Malkin was a little banged up thanks to some friendly fire in the second period but in the third period he looked to suffer a much more significant injury. As he was defending a 2-on-1 while the Penguins were on the power play he broke up a show attempt and crashed backwards into the end boards feet first. It was really awkward and you knew it was bad the way he laid on the ice. He tried to get up and fell right back down. As he was taken off the ice he was able to put no weight on he left leg. I want to say that it might not be serious but as I am typing this it he pretty hard to imagine that this isn't serious.
Here is a gif of the injury
[via The Pensblog]
On top of that Deryk Engelland is going to be the next in line to get suspended by the NHL. At the tail end of the first period he was going in for a hit on Detroit's Justin Abdelkader that resulted in Abdelkader [probably] getting a concussion. I mean we don't know for sure that it is a concussion but it looked like he was going to throw up on the ice as soon as he got up. He couldn't even stand up straight. Here is the hit:
(via The Pensblog)
That is just something you can't do. Earlier in the day David Clarkson got suspended two games for something similar and I would think that Engelland is going to get something similar. This was huge since the Penguins were without their top four defenseman to start the game and played the last two periods with only five defensemen since he got a match penalty for the hit. Just a bad idea. What makes it look even worse is that he came through with the elbow. Now, his elbow didn't hit Abdelkader but swinging it through certainly doesn't help. The main point of contact was the face and that will be enough for the suspension. I mean who needs defensemen anyways?
So that left the Penguins without their top four defensemen and they were missing another defenseman for two periods and one of the best players in the league who had a hand in three Penguins goals on the night for the third period. I know a lot of people are going to say they would trade the win for Malkin to be alright and I know some might take that as semi-serious but this is about as serious as that statement gets. Malkin has been unreal good the last two months and if he was to miss significant time the team will be in some sort of trouble.
The Penguins have done a really nice job of dealing with all these injuries. I know that every team has injuries and these are things that happen but it seems like the Penguins have been hit especially hard this year. At some point the injuries are going to catch up with them and they just don't have the depth at forward like they do on the blue line. If this injury is significant to Malkin then things could get a little uglier. Sidney Crosby has carried the team a good bit but he will have to step up even more with Malkin out.
First star of the night tonight is Jeff Zatkoff. He is a Michigan native and got the start after Marc-Andre Fleury went last night and he was just spectacular. At the start of the season Zatkoff was pretty raw and looked like a guy who was forced into the backup role but every single game he has played better. He gave up a goal tonight on a bit of an odd play but all he did was step up and make some massively huge saves to hold the Penguins 2-1 lead through the second period. I am not saying that he could come in and play two or three nights a week like Tomas Vokoun could but I am getting a lot more comfortable with him in the backup role.
The second start tonight is probably the penalty kill. Coming into the night they were the second ranked penalty kill unit in the league and tonight they shut down the Red Wings. That includes the five minute power play that the Wings got to end the second period and the start of the third period. The Wings had a couple of decent chicness and a lot of power play shots but they weren't high quality shots. The Penguins were clearing the zone and letting Zatkoff clearly see the puck and it was just a dominating performance.
The third star is probably the power play unit. My Lord that unit is good. They scored two first period goals and while they both came off good bounces you only get those good bounces if you are working hard and putting yourself in position to capitalize on things like that. Crosby scored the first and Malkin scored the second and the combined power play time they used was about two minutes. They scored 40 some seconds into the first power play and then a little over a minute into the second power play. They are efficient and they make it look amazingly easy. There were times last years where people would say the Penguins should break up Crosby and Malkin into two power play units but this year they are working flawlessly. They are pretty much unstoppable right now. Scary good.
The Penguins paid a big time price for the win tonight but it's two points. The Pneguins have been really beat up and continue to add to the casualty count. The secondary scorers are going to have to continue to play well and guys like Chris Kunitz and Crosby are going to have to keep playing great hockey but right now the Penguins are in a good spot in the standings. It helps that the Metro is a brutally bad division but I am not going to complain.