Malkin injured, but Penguins' win streak extends to five games
Oh, what these Penguins might do if they ever get healthy. Or, at least, if center Evgeni Malkin stays healthy.
They recovered from a two-goal deficit Friday night — and the loss of Malkin to an apparent right leg injury early in the second period — to down the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins (34-15-4, 72 points) have won five straight, all of them without Malkin and center Sidney Crosby producing a point.
"You always want those two guys in the lineup, but sometimes maybe some of the other guys are waiting for those two guys to lead the way," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "When they're not in the lineup, everybody else has to produce in their own way."
A notable example against the Sabres was left wing Matt Cooke. He scored the winning goal in a dominant second period, during which his club racked a 17-6 shot advantage and, more importantly, a 3-0 edge in goals.
Cooke, now one of six forwards — only three of which healthy — with 10 goals on the season, finished with four shots and seven hits. Equally impressive was defenseman Paul Martin, who paced the Penguins with four of their 12 blocked shots.
In the absence of their superstars, the Penguins received a boost from role-playing forwards in the second. Rookie center Dustin Jeffrey scored at 3:50, and veteran wings Tyler Kennedy and Cooke struck at 6:24 and 7:04 to push the Penguins ahead.
Crosby hasn't played since Jan. 5 because of a concussion, and his return is not imminent. This was Malkin's return from a five-contest absence because of a sinus infection — at least, the Penguins offered that as the reason for him missing those games.
Malkin had spent this week publicly declaring his left knee was "100 percent ready" even though it had bothered him from mid-October through Jan. 18, the date of his last game before this one.
Early in the second period, with the Penguins on a power play and trailing, 2-0, Malkin collided with Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers. Malkin's right leg bent in, and he kneeled on the ice for more than a minute before leaving for the dressing room without the help of teammates or trainers.
He did not return, finishing with six shifts and 6:03 of ice time. Coach Dan Bylsma said he did not have a diagnosis of Malkin's injury or a prognosis for his return.
"The puck got dumped in the corner. I just wanted to engage him going in. We both kind of twisted up," Myers said. "I think I collided with his lower body into the boards funny. So, it's just one of those awkward hits."
It was just one of those typically stout starts from goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 27 saves. He has allowed more than three goals only once since Nov. 12.
He did not surrender a goal after the Sabres went ahead, 2-0, on tallies by Paul Gaustad and Mike Grier in the opening 7:03.
The entire organization now awaits word on Malkin's health — again.
"It was great to get him back and unfortunate (Myers) fell into him," Orpik said. "We battled back after that. We played really, really well."