Courtesy of Point Park University

Coping with ‘longer-term’ injuries to Malkin, Bjugstad


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Evgeni Malkin. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Remember the days when the Steelers had a franchise quarterback and a bounty of capable ones who didn't figure to do anything more strenuous this season than carry a clipboard?

You know, last month.

Which is a lot like the time the Penguins had two healthy franchise centers and a depth chart teeming with guys who play the position and could ably fill in if ever called upon.

You know, last weekend.

Well, some of the guys the Penguins believe can be effective at center will get a chance to prove it, now that Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad, their second- and third-line centers through the early days of the 2019-20 season, will be sidelined for extended periods because of unspecified "lower-body" injuries sustained during a 7-2 victory against the Blue Jackets Saturday.

Mike Sullivan said both will be out "longer term," and that "we would expect (Malkin) to be a little bit longer" than Bjugstad. No timeframe was announced for either to return, although Sullivan said Malkin's injury is not a threat to end his season.

Team officials were meeting after practice to discuss who they would summon from the farm team in Wilkes-Barre. A few hours later, they recalled center Sam Lafferty and left winger Andrew Agozzino.

The Penguins' top two lines when they face the Jets Tuesday at 7:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena figure to be Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Dominik Simon and Alex Galchenyuk-Jared McCann-Brandon Tanev.

The makeup of the bottom two units is far less certain, and will be influenced by the roles Lafferty and Agozzino are given. Besides the members of the top two lines, the forwards at Monday's practice were Patric Hornqvist, Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger and Dominik Kahun.

Blueger has been centering the fourth line, but it's possible he could be bumped up to the third. Sullivan also did not rule out using Kahun in the middle, calling him "a natural center," although Kahun has been used on the wing during his season-plus in the NHL.

McCann, who had been playing left wing on Bjugstad's line, moved into Malkin's spot after Malkin was injured in a collision with teammate Kris Letang during the second period, and seemed to fit in well with Galchenyuk and Tanev.

"We have that chemistry as a line already," McCann said.

He acknowledged that shifting to center will alter his duties a bit, mostly in the form of increased defensive responsibilities, but said he does not plan to make any significant changes to his game to accommodate his new linemates.

"We have such a deep team here that you have to play the same way with everybody," he said.

That, Tanev said, is pretty much what he plans to do, too.

"You don't change your game, regardless of who you're playing with," he said. "You have to continue to play to your strengths, continue to go out there and play your game."

Galchenyuk characterized being without Malkin as "definitely a big loss," but endorsed having McCann move into the void created by Malkin's injury.

"He's a skilled player," Galchenyuk said. "He moves the puck, skates well and has a great shot. He has all the great offensive instincts."

McCann feels that his new linemates' skills mesh nicely with his own.

"(Tanev) has a lot of speed," McCann said. "(Tanev) can fly. We call him 'Turbo' for a reason. (Galchenyuk) is a guy who always has his head up and is always looking to make a play. He's got that skill level, so I'm just trying to shoot the puck as much as I possibly can."

McCann already had a significant role on this team. Sliding into Malkin's spot will only enhance his importance.

"Whenever players go down, it always provides an opportunity for someone else to step up," Sullivan said. "That's just the nature of our business. ... It's a great opportunity for players like him."

Devlin Hodges knows the feeling.

• Losing Malkin also will force the Penguins to adjust their No. 1 power play unit, on which he had been playing the point opposite Letang. Justin Schultz took Malkin's place during some special-teams drills Monday, but the Penguins have experimented with a number of personnel groups since the start of training camp.

• Sullivan's rationale for deploying Galchenyuk along the left side on the power play: "I watched a fair amount of his power-play time when he was in (Arizona) and I thought he was really good in that particular position. He sees it pretty good. He has good deception on that side. He has a real good shot. He's a dangerous scoring threat himself, when he comes off that wall."

• Tanev spent three-plus seasons in Winnipeg before joining the Penguins as a free agent in July, and said he has "a lot of good friends" among the Jets. He also views Winnipeg as a formidable opponent, even though the Jets' blue line has been weakened by the departures of Jacob TroubaTyler Myers and Ben Chiarot and the absence of Dustin Byfuglien, who has been granted a leave of absence from the team while he considers his future in the game. "Obviously, there are a couple of guys who left this season, but they're still a great team and they have a lot of great players," Tanev said. "They're very dangerous."

• McCann, on the Penguins' 7-2 victory against Columbus: "It was a huge confidence-booster. We feel like we played well, at both ends of the ice. Moving forward, we have to have more of that."

• Jets defenseman Dmitry Kulikov will miss the game because he is dealing with a personal matter, according to coach Paul Maurice. However, defenseman Josh Morrissey, who was a late scratch for Winnipeg's 4-1 loss on Long Island Sunday after colliding with an unidentified teammate during warmups at Nassau Coliseum, practiced Monday and is expected to play against the Penguins.

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