Crosby-less Penguins skate around Avalanche for a shootout victory
DENVER — Satisfaction is the Stanley Cup.
However, as regular seasons go, this one has proven quite satisfying for the Penguins. So did a 3-2 shootout victory over the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Sunday night.
It secured only the third 50-win season in franchise history and a 23rd road victory, which is one off a team record. Those marks were reached in the same contest that the Penguins became only the third NHL team in the past five seasons to hit 500 man-games lost to injury.
They are at 506 — and two of six Penguins not to miss a game because of injury played pivotal roles in this one. Center Brandon Sutter scored twice in the second period, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 39 saves and was perfect through three shootout rounds.
Captain Sidney Crosby missed his first game, with an upper-body injury. Also, his top-line left winger, Chris Kunitz, joined defenseman Brooks Orpik as an observer because of lower-body injuries. Defenseman Olli Maatta, a Calder Trophy (top rookie) candidate, did not play because of an upper-body injury.
“The injuries are ones that every one of the players has been playing with, and it wasn't prudent to play in back-to-back games, really,”coach Dan Bylsma said.
The Penguins lost 4-0 at Minnesota on Saturday night.
Crosby played just under 20 minutes in that contest. He has played fewer than 20 minutes in his past three contests. His season average is around 22 minutes, and it rates second among all forwards.
Playing in 82 games for the first time was an objective Crosby set in the offseason. He had missed 114 games, including the playoffs, during the past three seasons.
“Every player offers resistances, wants to play in every game, be in every game, so …” Bylsma said, while smiling, when declaring Crosby out against Colorado.
The Penguins (50-24-5, 105 points) played the Avalanche without their projected top three centers. Evgeni Malkin and Marcel Goc are out with foot injuries, and their status for Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs is undetermined.
Malkin, who is recovering from a hairline fracture, will have a re-evaluation with a physician in Pittsburgh on Monday, Bylsma said.
The Penguins believe Malkin could play sometime during Round 1, if not at the start. They do not expect Goc will be ready for the opening round.
If Crosby and Malkin are ready for the playoffs, Goc's absence would allow Brandon Sutter to reclaim his previous role as third-line center. He had scored a goal in only three of 41 previous games before notching his 12th and 13th markers Sunday in the second period.
He also hit a pipe on a chance to build a 3-1 lead in the third, when the Avalanche received goals from center Ryan O'Reilly and winger Patrick Bordeleau.
Winger Jussi Jokinen scored the lone shootout goal, and Fleury made sure it stood for what Sutter termed a “big character win.”
“We had more than a couple (top players) out,” Sutter said. “For us to come in and play the way we did is something we can build on for when the real games start.”
The playoffs open April 16.