Last season, by March, the Penguins had reached an absolutely ridiculous level of missing games to injury. The Pens ended the 2010-2011 season with just over 300 man games lost due to injury, the majority racked up by the club’s 3 top forwards, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. In fact the only players that didn’t miss a game were forward Max Talbot and defenseman Kris Letang (and I would argue that Talbot didn’t exactly show up for most of the team’s 82 games).
This season, as injured forwards are making their way back to the ice, the month of October was not kind to the Pen’s blue line.
Kris Letang was suspended for two games for, a boarding call against Alexander Burmistrov of the Jets. Brian Strait up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to fill in for Tanger in a game against the Wild. Strait was injured on a play and is out indefinitely with a hyper extended elbow.
Brooks Orpik didn’t begin the season as he was recovering from abdominal surgery from the off-season. He finally returned on October 20, making his debut against the Canadiens.
Two days later, Letang was able to return for a home game against the Devils. One defenseman in, another out. Zybnek Michalek broke a finger and is out 4-6 weeks. Luckily, he is showing signs of making a quick return as he has resumed skating with the team on their road trip to California.
Alex Picard was called to make the West Coast trip, with the Pens only having 6 healthy blue-liners. Matt Niskanen left the ice, and the bench, after taking a nasty hit in the first period against the Sharks on Thursday. He eventually returned to the game later in the period. Ben Lovejoy was not so fortunate. About five minutes into the second period, he was involved in a pileup along the boards in the offensive zone with Sharks Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski and broke his wrist. He is out indefinitely. I joked on Twitter that Picard brought a voo doo doll with him to ensure some ice time (the Pens rotated 5 d-men for the remainder of the game).
Robert Bortuzzo was called out of WB/S to possibly play in tonight’s game against the Kings. Bortuzzo did not participate in training camp in September due to a knee injury sustained during a game in the summer. He has played two games in WB/S this season with a plus-3 rating. At 6’4″ and 211 lbs, Bortuzzo adds a huge presence physically to the blue line.
Head Coach Dan Byslma stated yesterday at practice Picard will play tonight in Los Angeles. Geno, Matt Cooke, Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen did not participate in yesterday’s practice. Bylsma explained they were all off for maintenance, but one may not make it into tonight’s line-up.
“ …we had several players off the ice for maintenance days. With the exception of maybe one, we expect them all back in the lineup for our game against Los Angeles.”
The Lovejoy injury is a slap to the face for the Pens, especially Lovejoy who has had a fairly slow start to the season. With Michalek out, Lovejoy had an opportunity to play more minutes and not serve as a healthy scratch for games. He looked actually quite good in the Sharks game prior to his injury, making smart plays with the puck and playing a solid defensive game.
Lovejoy joked regarding the fall of cardboard Brooks Orpik that “The injuries just keep piling up for the Pens.” I’m sure he didn’t think last week that he would be next in line.
The Pens will battle in L.A. tonight. Hopefully the blue line can evade further injury and bring the team back to Pittsburgh with another W under their belt.
Let’s Go Pens!