The Penguins will try to maintain their perfect March on Tuesday night against Washington, but they will have to do so with an imperfect lineup.
As expected, prolific defenseman Kris Letang was ruled out for tonight’s home matchup with the Capitals, with the Penguins gunning for their 10th win in a row. Letang, whose 28 points lead all NHL blueliners, missed the last two periods of Sunday’s 2-1 win over Boston with what the team is calling a lower-body injury.
Defending league MVP Evgeni Malkin will join Letang in the Consol Energy Center press box, as the upper-body injury he sustained more than a week ago has not healed enough to justify a return to action.
Malkin has missed five straight games and nine overall this season, but still ranks fifth in team scoring with 24 points. According to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Josh Yohe, Malkin remains hopeful he will be cleared to play Friday when the Penguins travel to face the New York Islanders.
Yohe also reported that third-line winger Matt Cooke is questionable with an undisclosed ailment, making it possible that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma will dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen against the Capitals. Pittsburgh has carried eight defensemen on its roster for most of the season, with Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo, Deryk Engelland and the recently-signed Mark Eaton taking turns as healthy scratches over the past two weeks.
According to Bylsma, Letang is “day-to-day,” so the Penguins will likely not call up another D-man from the AHL to take his place, unless the injury is deemed to be more severe than initially thought. If Cooke is out tonight, Pittsburgh would need to dress seven defensemen to have the maximum 18 skaters at its disposal.
It’s not an ideal solution, but astute Penguins followers will recall that Bylsma employed seven blueliners for much of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs. With Eaton back in the fold and playing well, 2013 is starting to feel downright nostalgic.
Of course, if the Penguins are going to mimic a past season, they could do a lot worse than 2009.