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Updated 14 minutes ago
The Penguins aren't going to have their full complement of healthy forwards anytime soon.
That much was made certain when coach Mike Sullivan said after Monday's practice that winger Bryan Rust will be out “longer term” with an upper-body injury.
They might have their All-Star core back together at any moment, however, and captain Sidney Crosby is hopeful that can provide a boost to the team's overall quality of play.
Evgeni Malkin, who has missed the past seven games with a lower-body injury, will be a gametime decision when the Penguins host the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night. He has gone through two practices and a morning skate with full contact without incident.
“Geno felt really strong today,” Sullivan said.
The Penguins are 4-1-2 since Malkin was injured, which is a generally impressive string of results in the absence of a player who has been in the top 10 in the league in scoring all year.
The team's quality of play without Malkin has been spotty, however. Their trips into the offensive zone have been less frequent and less dynamic. The power play has been tepid. In short, Malkin has been missed.
“Geno, like I said, you can't replace him,” Crosby said. “Other teams pay attention when he's in the lineup. I think we've done a good job of getting through as best we can. At the same time, I think we've done a good job of also not accepting that just getting by is OK. I think we expect a lot more of ourselves. I think that's a good thing. We have to make sure down the stretch here, we're playing the right way.”
As the stretch run begins, the Penguins definitely will be without Rust, who suffered an upper-body injury when he collided with Colorado goalie Calvin Pickard last Thursday.
“Rusty is longer term,” Sullivan said. “He's still being evaluated, so I'm reluctant to put a timeframe on it at this point, but he is longer term.”
Sullivan said he doesn't expect Rust's injury to be season ending.
“I wouldn't go there,” Sullivan said. “I do think it's going to be longer term. We're hopeful it's not going to be that significant.”
Conor Sheary, meanwhile, resumed skating Monday, two weeks after suffering an upper-body injury Jan. 31. According to original projections, Sheary is expected to be out of the lineup two to four more weeks.
“We're encouraged with his progress. He's tracking pretty well,” Sullivan said. “We're hoping, now that he's back on the ice, it's a big step for him. We'll see where that goes, but we're really encouraged with the process that he's going through.”
Sullivan reported no change in Carl Hagelin's status. The left wing has been out since suffering a concussion Feb. 4. He continued to skate on his own Monday.
“He's still status quo,” Sullivan said. “We'll see how he responds after today.”
The continued absence of Rust, Sheary and Hagelin means the Penguins will keep leaning on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton call-ups such as Jake Guentzel, Carter Rowney and Josh Archibald in important roles.
Sullivan seemed optimistic that his team's young players can handle the job.
“I think that youthful enthusiasm is a great thing,” Sullivan said. “It's a dynamic that helps the team win. I think it's great for the environment, and I think it's contagious.”
He'll be even more optimistic, of course, when Malkin returns and joins Crosby, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang in the lineup.
“We believe those guys are going to make the players around them better, and we believe they do. And they have,” Sullivan said. “That's at least our philosophy. I don't believe we need to make any major changes to our game plan or our team concept.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.
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