Pens prepared to play Game 1 against Islanders without Crosby
The Penguins may be forced to begin the Stanley Cup playoffs Wednesday at Consol Energy Center without their captain and one of their most respected leaders.
Good thing general manager Ray Shero went on a trading spree a month ago.
With the services of Sidney Crosby and Brooks Orpik in question entering Game 1 against the New York Islanders, the Penguins could be forced to rely on their depth.
“We have a lot of good players here,” defenseman Paul Martin said. “You need everyone to contribute in the playoffs.”
“Everyone” may get the opportunity sooner than expected.
Crosby's health is the dominant storyline in the first round. Out since breaking his jaw against the Islanders on March 30, Crosby has been skating with the Penguins for more than a week but has not been cleared for contact. He skated with the “fifth line,” along with forwards Dustin Jeffrey and Joe Vitale, during Tuesday's practice, which didn't inspire optimism that he will play in Game 1.
He insists, however, that his physicians will have the only say.
Crosby said if doctors cleared him for contact Tuesday evening, he would play Wednesday.
“As soon as he says the word,” Crosby said. “As long as he feels confident I can take a hit, I'll be confident as well. I'm not going to take any more time. If he says I can play, I will play.”
Still, there remains no assurances.
“At the end of the day I have to make sure I'm better,” Crosby said. “He's the one who knows best, not me. If you ask any player, you're always champing on the bit to come back.”
If he doesn't, a suitable replacement exists.
Jussi Jokinen isn't of Crosby's caliber, but he has been surprisingly productive.
In 10 games since being acquired from Carolina on trade deadline day, Jokinen has scored seven goals and recorded 11 points. Jokinen skated with wingers Jarome Iginla and Pascal Dupuis — Crosby's presumed linemates when he returns — during Tuesday's practice.
“I've played with them four or five games now,” Jokinen said. “We have some chemistry. We've produced, and we've done a nice job of keeping the puck out of our net. I'm not sure what my role will be, but I'll do whatever it takes to help us win hockey games.”
The same could be said of Orpik, who has played in 75 career postseason games. But Orpik appears even more doubtful than Crosby to play Wednesday.
Dealing with a lower-body injury, Orpik skated before practice Tuesday but did not join his teammates for practice.
If he can't play, defenseman Deryk Engelland — he has played in six career postseason games, all last season against the Flyers — likely will take his place.
“Other than Brooks having skated on his own,” coach Dan Bylsma said, “I don't have a further update for you.”
The Penguins hardly seemed to be rattled. Like the Penguins a generation ago with Mario Lemieux and his health problems, these Penguins have become accustomed to carrying on without Crosby.
“You hope for the best and that he's part of the lineup,” left wing Brenden Morrow said. “But we're kind of preaching that no guy is better than the team. If he's in the lineup, it makes us a better hockey team. But if he's not, somebody's going to step up.”
Make no mistake: Crosby is hungry to play.
“I'll wear anything to play, whether it's a football helmet or whatever,” he said. “Whatever it takes.”