Published on February 24th, 2013 | by James Conley0
Penguins Precap 19: Tampa Bay Lightning
Evgeni Malkin has twice been asked to carry the Penguins while Sidney Crosby sat out for extended periods with injury, in 2008 and 2012 due to high ankle and head injuries, respectively.
Pittsburgh is hoping a quick and cautious response to Malkin’s own head injury will mean Crosby won’t have to carry the team’s offense for long.
“[Malkin] will continue to be evaluated by our doctors tonight before the game,” Bylsma said. “At this point in time we have not ruled out a concussion.”
“I am happy to report that he has not been suffering from headaches or disorientation.”
News that Malkin may not be suffering concussion symptoms clashes with earlier reports that he had been dealing with “severe headaches and mild disorientation” after the hit.
The discrepancy is strange. The earlier report came from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi, who is close to Malkin and isn’t likely to have received bad information. It’s also a favorite practice of NHL teams to obfuscate the status of an injured player, whether the ailment is neurological damage or an ingrown hair.
It’s impossible to know what Malkin’s status is, but given the alternative, it’s nice to hear that Malkin is feeling well.
With Malkin ruled out for Sunday’s date with the Tampa Bay Lightning, however, Crosby, James Neal and a reconfigured top-nine will be asked to carry the load against a struggling Lightning team.
Tampa Bay is 3-6-1 in its last ten games after jumping out to an early lead in the Southeast Division. While they still hold the division lead, the poor records of Winnipeg, Washington and Florida have more to do with their place in the standings than their own triumphs.
Even after acquiring defenseman Matt Carle and goaltender Anders Lindback in the offseason, defense still ails the Lightning. Tampa is 23rd in goals against, having allowed three or more goals in seven of their last ten games.
However, no team scores more often than the Lightning, whose 3.88 goals per game average bests the Penguins by more than half a goal per game (3.28 goals/game).
Pittsburgh, second in the NHL in goals scored, will try to draw closer to a Tampa team they outscored 12-3 in two home dates last season.
The Lightning are a top-ten club on special teams and that match-up will be one to watch Sunday. Pittsburgh will be running a reconfigured power play without Malkin’s services, and the Penguins’ 12th-ranked penalty kill will have a tall task in holding off Tampa’s top PP unit.
Pittsburgh’s 3rd-ranked power play has scored at least one man-advantage goal in ten consecutive games, but will be without Malkin’s 14 power play points (3PPG, 11PPA) Sunday.
At even-strength, Neal figures to get a look on Sidney Crosby’s right wing. It marks the first time Neal and Crosby have started together at even-strength since Neal’s acquisition in Spring 2011.
Neal was originally brought to Pittsburgh to play alongside Crosby, but found excellent chemistry alongside Malkin last season while Crosby spent much of the year on injured reserve.
“Hopefully it’s not too big of an adjustment,” Neal said of the switch to the first line. “From watching Sid a lot, hopefully I’ve got a good feel for him. I’m obviously familiar with [Kunitz] from last year, so hopefully we can get off to a good start and build some quick chemistry.”
With Neal moved up a line, Pascal Dupuis figures to start alongside Brandon Sutter and Beau Bennett, with Dustin Jeffrey getting a second straight start. A natural center, Jeffrey will start between Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy on the third line, with Joe Vitale getting back into the line-up centering the fourth line.
Marc-Andre Fleury is 6-1-0 in his last seven starts and could face the Lightning Sunday.
Audio courtesy Jason Seidling & Pittsburgh Penguins