With Crosby out, Malkin again is Penguins’ go-to center | TribLIVE.com
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The Penguins' Sidney Crosby rushes to puck up-ice against the Capitals on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2013.

Sidney Crosby is out.

Evgeni Malkin is up.

Crosby, the NHL scoring leader and MVP favorite, will miss an indefinite period of time with a broken jaw that required surgery. A more detailed time frame for his recovery should be known later this week, general manager Ray Shero said on Sunday.

“He looked a lot better than I thought, to be honest,” Shero said after visiting Crosby at UPMC Presbyterian. Surgery was performed by Dr. Bernard Costello.

Crosby’s jaw is not wired shut, Shero said.

Crosby, who was visited Sunday morning by Penguins teammates, exhibited no signs of concussion, Shero said.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are scheduled to begin April 30, and Shero said he did not want to speculate about Crosby’s status other than the Penguins expect an update this week.

Crosby already was drinking nutritional shakes, Shero said, and he will meet with a nutritionist Monday. Crosby will require additional surgical work in the future, Shero said.

Crosby was injured on his first shift in that game. A puck deflected after a shot from defenseman Brooks Orpik and caught Crosby near the mouth.

Streaking, hurting

Winners of 15 in a row, the Penguins (28-8-0, 56 points) did not practice Sunday.

They will play Buffalo at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday night. They are two wins from matching the NHL’s longest winning streak, set by the Mario Lemieux-led Penguins in 1993.

Crosby is not the only injured regular for these Penguins.

Defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin — the club’s top scorers at the position — also are out.

Letang is nursing a broken toe that will keep him out at least for the early part of this week. Martin had surgery Sunday to repair a broken bone in his right hand, and he is expected to miss at least four weeks, and up to six.

The Penguins, who in the past week have acquired wingers Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla and defenseman Douglas Murray in trades, have over $14 million in prorated salary-cap space to add players before the trade deadline on Wednesday.

Shero said the injury to Crosby was not likely to impact his thinking going into the deadline.

“What center can you get to replace Sid, honestly?” Shero said. “We’ve made the moves we’re going to make, I think.”

Go-to Geno

The Penguins received a boost last Thursday with the return of Malkin, the MVP last season. He has played in only 23 games because of a concussion and an injured right shoulder.

Crosby has missed 129 regular-season games because of significant injuries over the past five seasons — 28 because of an ankle injury in 2007-08 and 101 due to concussion symptoms from the 2010-11 through 2011-12 seasons.

The Penguins are 77-39-13 in those contests. It has helped to have Malkin, a No. 1 center for any franchise but this one. Malkin has scored 54 goals and produced 122 points in 87 games of those games Crosby has missed because of the ankle injury and concussion.

“We’ve been here before,” Shero said. “Our guys know how to handle this.”

Malkin’s tear five years ago — 20 goals and 46 points in 28 games without Crosby — nearly allowed Malkin to catch Washington’s Alex Ovechkin in the scoring and MVP races, and fueled the Penguins’ division-title run.

Last season, Malkin racked up 29 goals and 59 points in 40 games that Crosby missed because of his second bout with concussion symptoms. That stretch, which included four weeks when center Jordan Staal also did not play, propelled Malkin to his second scoring title and first MVP.

There are only two stretches — both small — during the Crosby-Malkin era in which Malkin did not produce at an MVP-like level in Crosby’s absence.

Malkin recorded only three assists in the first six games Crosby missed with concussion in 2010-11. Torn ligaments in his right knee prevented Malkin from playing any more games that season, and the Penguins lost their 2011 first-round playoff series that was played without Malkin and Crosby.

Malkin scored only five goals and recorded 14 points in 13 games without Crosby at the start of last season, though Malkin also missed seven contests because he had aggravated the knee that was surgically repaired in February 2011.

Malkin previously has acknowledged he feels a responsibility to elevate his production when Crosby is not in the lineup, though he also disputes that he has picked those spots to assert himself as arguably the planet’s finest player.

Lineup options

Crosby, who had scored 15 goals, was leading the NHL with 56 points — 10 more than second-place Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay before games played Sunday. His top line’s left winger, Chris Kunitz, was third in points (44) and goals (20), and his right winger, Pascal Dupuis, was ninth in goals (17).

That top line was so impactful that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he had “no inkling” to break it up even after the acquisition of Iginla, who played with Crosby for Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics and also has scored over 500 goals and 1,000 points.

Iginla debuted for the Penguins on Saturday afternoon as the left winger on a line with Malkin and Neal, who has developed chemistry with Malkin since switching from left to right wing last season. With Malkin in the lineup, Neal has scored 51 of his 57 goals the past two seasons.

Neal worked on a line with forward Dustin Jeffrey as his center during Malkin’s most recent absence.

Shero said “Jeffrey is probably playing the best hockey of his career.”

Upon Crosby’s injury Saturday, Bylsma kept Iginla, Malkin and Neal together, even though Kunitz played with Malkin and Neal during the bulk of Crosby’s absences last season.

Bylsma did not say after the win over the Islanders what his line options would be if Crosby were to miss significant time, though he did stress right winger Tyler Kennedy, drafted as a center, was likely not an option to work the middle.

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