Injuries to forwards force Penguins to cope with speed deficit

Shots on the bench With speedsters Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Carl Hagelin out with injuries, the Penguins will be without three of their leaders in even-strength shot attempts this season.1. Patric Hornqvist 1751. Phil Kessel 1753. Sidney Crosby 1594....

Injuries to forwards force Penguins to cope with speed deficit

Shots on the bench

With speedsters Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Carl Hagelin out with injuries, the Penguins will be without three of their leaders in even-strength shot attempts this season.

1. Patric Hornqvist 175

1. Phil Kessel 175

3. Sidney Crosby 159

4. Bryan Rust 148

5. Carl Hagelin 144

6. Evgeni Malkin 139

7. Conor Sheary 131

8. Scott Wilson 129

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Updated 6 minutes ago

GLENDALE, Ariz. — When their flight in from Denver arrived later than anticipated, the scheduled start of Penguins practice Friday afternoon in Arizona was delayed by about an hour.

It was fitting.

Due to injuries, they're not necessarily moving as fast these days as they normally might.

Bryan Rust, who was injured in a collision with Colorado goalie Calvin Picard on Thursday night, will not play Saturday when the Penguins face the Coyotes. Coach Mike Sullivan said his upper-body injury will be reevaluated when the team returns to Pittsburgh.

Rust joins Carl Hagelin (concussion) and Conor Sheary (upper body) on the injured list.

The Penguins have built their success on a foundation of speed, and those are three of the team's fastest forwards.

“It's hard to replace those guys. They bring a lot of speed to our lineup,” Sullivan said. “That's one of the reasons why they're here. They're all good players in their own right. When three of them go down at the same time, it's a challenge.”

The most obvious way the Penguins might look to answer that challenge is to welcome star center Evgeni Malkin back to the lineup.

Malkin has missed six games with a lower-body injury, and while he and Sullivan cautioned that they would wait until closer to game time to guarantee anything, there's a strong possibility his return will come Saturday night.

“I'm not saying 100 percent, but it's a good chance,” Malkin said.

Malkin balked at the idea that his return would bring some speed to the Penguins lineup.

“Probably need a little bit of time to get back 100 percent. First couple games, maybe,” Malkin said. “It's not easy. So many fast guys on the team, and I'm not a faster guy.”

A wide smile broke across Malkin's face when he was asked where he thinks he ranks on the team in terms of speed.

“Probably like 11 or 12,” he said. “You know, (only counting) forwards.”

Malkin's self-deprecating jokes aside, there's no doubt he plays a fast game.

“He's a great skater,” forward Matt Cullen said. “He has such a good knack of getting the puck with speed. He always looks like he's at top speed. It's a gift. It's a skill. His timing is so precise.

“He gets the puck in full stride so often, which is not an easy thing to do. If it was, everybody would always do it. It's a lot easier to play when you get the puck at full speed. He's such a powerful skater. When he gets the puck at full speed, he's tough to stop.”

The Penguins also could turn to 24-year-old winger Josh Archibald, who was called up Friday from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He played one game for the Penguins last season.

Archibald, a college teammate of Jake Guentzel at Nebraska-Omaha who has set AHL career highs with 11 goals and 22 points in 48 games this season, is known primarily for his disruptive speed on the forecheck.

Beyond personnel additions, Sullivan often has said that speed, in all its forms, is his team's greatest competitive advantage.

Perhaps therein lies the key to facing the challenge of injuries to three of the team's fastest players.

Those remaining in the lineup don't necessarily have to skate faster to make up for the loss. They have to think, read and react quicker.

“It's the speed of the game we want to play,” said rookie Carter Rowney, who has fit in with the team's concept despite not being known as a blazing skater. “We want to keep pucks going north, quick up pucks. Transition is quick. Speed can be a lot of things. It's not just footspeed. The speed of how we want to play our game, we always want to play fast hockey.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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