Cumulative crush of injuries punishes Pens

| Friday, Jan. 16, 2009

Chalk one up for irony -- the Penguins had no choice but to do that on Thursday.

As defenseman Sergei Gonchar practiced with teammates for the first time since his left shoulder was separated on Sept. 20, center Sidney Crosby stood against a wall inside the players' lounge at Mellon Arena, discussing a left knee injury that could prevent him from playing tonight against Anaheim.

"It really is unbelievable," Gonchar said after the optional session yesterday. "All these injuries - I thought last year was bad, but I've never seen anything like this."

Coach Michel Therrien can't stand to see any more - injuries, though losses are driving him mad, too.

"It's not easy," Therrien said of his club's oft-injured state. "We face adversity, and it seems like it's been that way since the beginning of the year."

It has been that way for the Penguins dating to August, when defenseman Ryan Whitney underwent left foot surgery that cost him 33 games to start the season.

Against the Ducks tonight, Therrien may be without Crosby (the NHL's second-leading scorer with 59 points), defenseman Rob Scuderi (a team-leading plus-9 at his position) and forward Max Talbot (a top penalty killer).

Crosby, Scuderi (head) and Talbot (upper body) each failed to finish Wednesday's 6-3 home loss to Washington - the Penguins' eighth regulation defeat in 10 games, dropping them to 21-20-4 with 46 points. All three players are day-to-day, and Talbot's injury is feared most serious.

Crosby, hurt on a collision with Capitals center David Steckel, said yesterday an MRI showed no significant damage to his left knee. He plans to participate in a morning skate today and base his game status from that session.

Everybody hurts
A look at the Penguins' current injury breakdown:
Sidney Crosby, C Left knee Day-to-day; injured Wednesday
Rob Scuderi, D Head Day-to-day; injured Wednesday
Max Talbot, C/LW Upper body Day-to-day; injured Wednesday
Pascal Dupuis, LW Knee Day-to-day; injured Jan. 6
Ruslan Fedotenko, LW Right hand Injured reserve; injured Jan. 6
Mike Zigomanis, C Undisclosed Injured reserve; injured Dec. 3
Sergei Gonchar, D Left shoulder Injured reserve; injured Sept. 20

"I need to see if I can skate," Crosby said. "I haven't tried anything, so by (today) I'll have a better idea of what's going on."

What is going on for the Penguins is a slump - if a two-month stretch in which they are 9-16-1 can be considered only a slump.

Many numbers explain that poor record since the end of an eight-game point streak to open November: 3.38 goals allowed per game; a 14.3 percent power play (16-for-112); and a 76.1 percent penalty kill (86-of-113).

The numbers nine and five stand out most, though.

The Penguins have recalled nine players from AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (on 14 occasions) and placed five players on injured reserve dating to Nov. 22.

Keep in mind, by then they had already played the first seven weeks without Gonchar and Whitney, each of whom started the season on injured reserve.

Gonchar said yesterday he would not predict a date for his return to the lineup or full-contact drills. His participation in an optional practice was limited to skating and shooting, and that will prove the case the remainder of this month and perhaps well into February.

Before the loss Wednesday against Washington, the Penguins had lost 173 man-games to injury. They lost 239 last season, which Crosby acknowledged in September seemed "like an awful lot."

He solemnly said yesterday that that Penguins' training room "has been a busy area all season."

"I don't think it's ever an easy time for anybody, especially individually," Crosby said. "And then when you're not winning, it's not always easy. But we all have a responsibility, and that's part of a thing you deal with playing professional hockey.

"It's our job to get through that."

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