Crosby out, Iginla in, as Pens keep winning
Their March was perfect.
The Penguins' march — 15 consecutive wins and counting — could continue without captain Sidney Crosby.
Struck in the face by a puck, Crosby played only one shift in the Penguins' 2-0 victory Saturday over the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center.
Crosby lost several teeth after a sailing puck — off the stick blade of defenseman Brooks Orpik — caught him flush early in the first period. He crumpled to the ice, left with a blood-stained white towel pressed covering his lips and was scheduled for oral surgery later Saturday, coach Dan Bylsma said.
There were no signs of concussion symptoms, and Crosby's injury was mostly a teeth issue, multiple sources said.
“We don't know what the situation is,” left winger Matt Cooke said. “We just know he got it in the face. That's never fun, never a nice thing, and you just hope for the best.”
Crosby, per club policy on injured players, was not available for comment.
Cooke, who scored his sixth goal not long after he shined on a 5-on-3 penalty kill that carried over from the second period, did not want to lend credence to comparisons between these Penguins and his team that went 18-3-4 to close the season four years ago.
“That conclusion is being come to because we've won some games,” Cooke said. “The most important thing is this team has a belief in the system, a belief in each other, and that's what's helped us be as good as we've been.”
They were so good Saturday that they won despite finishing without Crosby, the NHL's scoring leader, and left winger Chris Kunitz, third in points. Kunitz received a major penalty for checking from behind — and an accompanying game misconduct — for his hit on Islanders center Josh Bailey late in the second period.
The NHL's Department of Player Safety reviews all hits, and Kunitz previously was suspended for a game during Round 1 of the 2011 playoffs. As of late Saturday, the NHL had not determined whether Kunitz would require a supplemental discipline hearing.
The Penguins (28-8-0, 56 points) lead the Eastern Conference with 12 games remaining. They do not play again until facing Buffalo at home Tuesday night.
A win will give them sole possession of the second-longest winning streak in NHL history. Their 15 consecutive victories are tied with New York Islanders, who ran off as many wins from Jan. 21-Feb. 20, 1982.
This victory came without their defensive leaders in points and ice time, as Kris Letang (broken toe) and Paul Martin (broken wrist) did not dress.
Also, Marc-Andre Fleury, the NHL co-leader in wins, watched from the bench as backup Tomas Vokoun became the first Penguins goalie to record shutouts in two consecutive games.
Vokoun stopped 34 shots, including 12 in an opening period that lacked flow from the Penguins while Bylsma searched for line combinations.
Part of that was because of Crosby's injury. Another reason was the addition of right winger Jarome Iginla — yeah, the Penguins inserted a 500-goal/1,000-point player into their lineup — after he arrived in Pittsburgh about 12 hours before the faceoff.
Iginla, acquired from Calgary early Thursday morning, played left wing on a line with center Evgeni Malkin and right winger James Neal, the latter scoring his 18th goal during the third period — his first marker in 10 games.
Neal is one of four Penguins with at least 15 goals, and Iginla and center Brandon Sutter are each one away from scoring their 10th.
Malkin has played in only five games during this winning streak, but, in two games since returning from a right shoulder injury, he has looked only a step away from his level last season, when he won the MVP and a second scoring title.
Scoring is not a problem for these Penguins, who lead the NHL with 121 goals.
Preventing goals was a problem before this run, which began with a 7-6 overtime victory at Montreal on March 2.
“When we went into Montreal, even though we gave up six, it started there,” Neal said. “We started getting guys away from our net, letting our goalies see the puck more — and now we are managing the puck a lot better, getting in on our forecheck.
“The best defense is offense. You can keep saying it, but it's a reality.”
This is reality: The Penguins were 23rd in average goals against the morning of that Montreal game but began Saturday ranked seventh.
Players said they care a lot more about that than becoming the first NHL team to go a calendar month without losing.
“We've had a lot of fun with (the streak), and of course it's great,” Vokoun said. “But we're trying to get better every (game) and get ready for the playoffs.”
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