- Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin will miss at least the first two months of the regular season as he recovers from knee surgery.
- Malkin suffered the injury late in the 2020-2021 regular season.
- The Penguins will also be without Sidney Crosby for at least six weeks as he recovers from wrist surgery.
The Pittsburgh Penguins got some bad news on center Evgeni Malkin on Thursday–he’ll be out for at least two months of the regular season as he recovers from knee surgery. Malkin suffered the injury on March 16 against the Boston Bruins and tried to return to action on May 3. He played four games before the injury flared up again, causing him to miss the first two games of the Stanley Cup First Round series against the New York Islanders. He underwent knee surgery after the Penguins were eliminated in six games by the Islanders.
At age 35, Malkin is entering his 16th NHL season and will be in the final year of an eight year, $76 million deal he signed in 2013. There have been some preliminary talks on an extension but Penguins GM Ron Hextall indicated that there has been no progress toward any sort of a deal. If no extension is reached he’ll become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2022. When Malkin is healthy, he’s a dangerous offensive player–prior to his injury in March he was averaging a point a game. He would wind up with 8 goals and 20 assists for 28 points in 33 regular season games. He added a goal and four assists in 4 playoff games.
Compounding the injury situation for Pittsburgh is the absence of Sidney Crosby who is recovering from off season wrist surgery. The Penguins’ captain still doesn’t have a firm timetable for his return though the initial prediction was ‘six weeks’. According to GM Hextall he’s been skating on his own and at this point the team is hopeful about the six week timeframe:
“Sid has been skating pretty much every day. He’s not handling the puck. He’s one-handing the puck. But everything is going well. He’s skating hard. He’s right on the timeline that we gave, minimum of six weeks.”
Assuming that the six week timetable is accurate, Crosby would miss the first four games of the regular season. Pittsburgh’s season starts on October 12 at Tampa Bay. Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan gave his thoughts on the unfortunate situation that will see his team without their top two centers to start the year:
“Obviously, when you lose players of that stature like Sid and Geno for a time, it’s hard to replace those guys both in the locker room and on the ice. And how they perform. But we have guys that bring a lot of leadership to the table, that understand the circumstance that we’re in and understand their role and their responsibility in stepping up and filling that void from a leadership standpoint.”
Jeff Carter will likely begin the season as the Penguins’ top center and clearly understands the challenge at hand:
“I mean, I’m not going to replace them. I think it’s going to have to be throughout the lineup. I’ll try to do my part to alleviate some of that pressure, but we’re going to need it from everybody. It’s the two best players on the team. So it’s going to be a big task for everybody, but I think it will be fun.”
Jake Guentzel is usually the left winger on Crosby’s line but has been practicing on a line with Carter and right winger Danton Heinen. The second line that would be centered by Malkin is–for now at least–Radim Zohorna at center between Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker. Guentzel is confident that his team can remain competitive with Malkin and Crosby out of action:
“I think you just have to kind of know what they bring to the table everyday to practice and game. So some of us might have to pick it up a little bit. We have to do it by committee. Two superstar players. But I think we know we have the players to do it. … I think we’re all excited for the opportunity because people might be able to play different spots.”
GM Hextall says that he likes the chemistry of the team and that he thinks they’re ready for the challenge:
“We’re up against it. We all know it. We’re going to have some guys that will have an opportunity to show us some things that they probably wouldn’t otherwise. We need some guys to step up. Just seeing the chemistry of our group last year, there’s a good feel this year. I think we all know we’re up against it. I think our guys are ready for the challenge.”
This is an important year for the current incarnation of the Penguins. Since winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 they haven’t made it past the second round of the playoffs.