When Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan announced on Wednesday afternoon after practice that center Sidney Crosby was being evaluated for an upper-body injury, many Pittsburgh Penguins fans were already concerned. They were tweeting, hoping it was not another concussion for the 31-year-old.
He has had a history of head injuries throughout his career. Luckily Crosby was not diagnosed with one in his most recent incident. In 16 games played so far this season, he has scored eight goals and recorded 11 assists. His plus/minus rating so far this season is 7.
Sidney Crosby’s status for Thursday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at home is uncertain. If he misses any length of time for the Penguins, could this be a wakeup call for this team?
They already received a wakeup call when General Manager Jim Rutherford decided to trade Carl Hagelin to the Los Angeles Kings for Tanner Pearson. Both players were struggling and maybe a change of scenery will do wonders for them.
Pearson could actually help on the top lines. He could provide scoring depth even though he has yet to score a goal in 17 games with the Los Angeles Kings this season.
Speaking of yet to score, the third and fourth lines haven’t scored a goal in the past eight games. The last time one of those two lines scored a goal was on Thursday, Oct. 25 in a 9-1 road win against the Calgary Flames and the goal was scored by Matt Cullen.
Cullen, Bryan Rust, and Riley Sheahan are struggling to score goals so far this season. Daniel Sprong needs to be played more often. If Crosby is out for a lengthy period, Sprong could be used in a top-6 role.
The lines at Pittsburgh Penguins practice on Wednesday were: Bryan Rust-Mark Recchi (Penguins assistant coach filling in for Crosby)-Dominik Simon, Zack Aston-Reese-Evgeni- Malkin-Patric Hornqvist, Jake Guentzel-Riley Sheahan-Phil Kessel, and Garrett Wilson-Matt Cullen-Daniel Sprong.
The defensive pairings were: Jack Johnson and Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin and Chad Ruhwedel, Olli Maatta and Jamie Oleksiak, and Jusso Riikola and Sergei Gonchar (Penguins assistant coach).
The third line on paper sounds like it has a lot of potential. Guentzel and Kessel are players that could put the puck in the back of the net. Aston-Reese and Hornqvist on a line with Malkin sounds interesting, but if Crosby is out, Malkin will most likely be on the top line.
It would not be surprising to see Sullivan go 11 forwards for Thursday’s game if Crosby is out. They would only have three healthy centers on the roster. Derrick Brassard continues to be injured. If he was healthy, the Penguins wouldn’t even have to think about going seven defensemen for the game against Tampa Bay.
Tanner Pearson is expected to play on Thursday night. If they only dress 11 forwards, Daniel Sprong will most likely be the odd man out, but this would be a mistake if Crosby is out. Wilson should be the one that sits because he doesn’t generate the offense like Sprong does, but Garrett Wilson is better defensively.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have done a tremendous job of using the phrase next man up under head coach Mike Sullivan. They will need to put a win together as their record so far this season is 7-6-3 with 17 points. Pittsburgh sits in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division and they have scored 53 goals and allowed 51 goals so far this season.
Evgeni Malkin steps up whenever Sidney Crosby is out and hopefully all of the lines follow his lead. If Crosby does play against the Tampa Bay Lightning, everyone needs to step up anyways because the top two lines can’t do everything. When the Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups, depth scoring was one of the main reasons why. They can’t ask Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel to do everything night in and night out.
Glenn Kaplan – Contributor