PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — In their first day back at practice since closing out their first round playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Penguins were on the ice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry without their No. 2 center, Evgeni Malkin, and one of his linemates, left winger Carl Hagelin.
Malkin missed Game 6 in Philadelphia Sunday with a lower body injury, while Hagelin left the game after taking a hit from Claude Giroux in the second period. Head coach Mike Sullivan says both players are considered day-to-day.
The Penguins have the benefit of a couple extra days of rest since their opponent in the next round, the Washington Capitals, just finished their first round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets Monday night. The dates and times for the games in the Metro Division finals have not yet been announced.
Another element the Penguins will use to their advantage is their depth at the center position, made stronger by the acquisitions of Riley Sheahan and Derick Brassard via trade during the regular season. Sheahan centered the second line between Hagelin and Phil Kessel in Game 6, and all parties agree that decision provided good results throughout the game.
“I think it was an obvious option for us when we didn’t have Geno available for the last game,” said Sullivan of the decision to replace Malkin with Sheahan. “Riley brings that 200-foot game. He’s a north-south guy. He gets in on pucks, as does [Hagelin] with his foot speed, and I think that helps a guy like Phil.”
“It’s playoff time and we’ve got a lot of guys that are ready to step into different roles,” Sheahan said. “The depth of our lineup is important for us. It was an important win for us to close out that series and get ready for this one.”
Sheahan, who has centered both the third and fourth lines at different times this season, agrees that it’s essential for him to continue to play his style of game, even if he’s on the second line in Malkin’s place.
“I just try to go in there and try to create some space for Phil and get him the puck,” he said. “[Malkin] is one of the best players in the league for a reason, so I’ve just got to try to stay focused, play my game and contribute however I can.”
“Losing a guy that scored almost 100 points this year – 40 goals – you can’t really replace that,” said Brassard, currently the team’s third center on the depth chart. “I think as a group, we’re all going to have to step up, try to play some big minutes and play a different role.”
Malkin’s 42 goals and 98 points both led the team during the regular season. He was also second on the team with 14 power play goals and tied for second with 38 power play points.