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Penguins' Bonino to miss extended time

| Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, 3:24 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
The Penguins' Nick Bonino tries a centering pass in front of the Blue Jackets' Kevin Conauton in the third period Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Consol Energy Center.

TAMPA, Fla. — When Nick Bonino left Tuesday's game at Carolina with a hand injury, the Penguins thought they might be without their third-line center for a while.

On Thursday afternoon, those worries were confirmed by coach Mike Sullivan after practice.

“He's not going to be short term,” Sullivan said. “I'm a little reluctant to put a timetable on it quite yet, but we're going to miss him here for a little while.”

Sullivan said he had not finalized his plans for replacing Bonino, but the most logical move would be to shift Eric Fehr to third-line center and have Sergei Plotnikov, a healthy scratch the past two games, move into Fehr's spot at fourth-line right wing.

“He's going to be missed in a lot of areas,” Sullivan said. “He's a real smart player. He's been a big part of the penalty kill. He's a guy that you can lean on to take faceoffs in the defensive zone when you need him to.

“I think offensively, his game was really starting to come. He played on one of the power-play units. He's played in a lot of key situations for our team.”

• Sullivan said recent call-ups Tom Kuhnhackl and Bryan Rust will be among the players who will fill in for Bonino on the penalty kill. His absence also raises the issue of whether the team's top players, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, should be used to kill penalties. The prospect of exposing stars to potential injury by using them that way scares coaches and general managers alike.“You really don't want them blocking shots,” general manager Jim Rutherford said. But Sullivan said it is something he will probably dabble in while Bonino's out. “Depending on the score of the game and how many penalties we take, I think it's important you don't keep those guys on the bench for any length of time,” Sullivan said. “So situationally, you'll probably see them being used.”

• Looking at the calendar, Patric Hornqvist felt a little strange proclaiming Friday night's matchup between the Penguins and Lightning a big game, but the facts point in that direction. The talent-rich Penguins and defending conference champion Lightning had high hopes coming into this season, but now they are stuck in an 11-team pack within six points of the final six playoff spots through Wednesday night's games. “Both we and Tampa Bay haven't played our best this season. We both wish we were higher in the standings,” Hornqvist said. “It's going to be a big game. Whoever wins this game is going to have a better chance to make the playoffs. That's what it is. There are still (40) games left, but you have to win every single game almost to get in there. You can't lose many points.”

Evgeni Malkin was a full participant in practice Thursday after having Wednesday off as a maintenance day. Sullivan said Malkin is good to go for Friday night's game.

— Jonathan Bombulie

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