The Pittsburgh Penguins will be without star center Evgeni Malkin “longer term” with a lower body injury, coach Mike Sullivan announced on Monday. The coach said that Malkin’s season is not in jeopardy.
The 33-year-old Malkin left the second period of Pittsburgh’s 7-2 win over Columbus on Saturday after taking an awkward hit to the boards.
Malkin is the third Pittsburgh forward to be out indefinitely with a lower body injury. Nick Bjugstad also got injured in Saturday’s game, though Sullivan said Malkin will be sidelined “a little bit longer than Nick.”
Additionally, the Penguins opened the season without forward Bryan Rust, who was placed on long-term injury reserve after being hit with a slap shot in the Penguins’ final preseason game.
Malkin scored Pittsburgh’s lone goal in their season-opening loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Malkin tallied 21 goals in 68 games last season — his lowest total since 2012-13 — as the Penguins were a disappointment in the playoffs, being swept by the New York Islanders in the first round.
However a day before his injury, Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford was praising Malkin and projecting a bounce-back season. “Geno worked very hard this summer physically and mentally, and he’s in a good place right now,” Rutherford told ESPN in an interview on Friday.
The Penguins are currently trying to retool on the fly, becoming a younger and faster team and maximize the window they have left with Sidney Crosby (age 32) and Malkin. Pittsburgh added five new players this offseason, and six players joined the team during last season. One of Pittsburgh’s big summer moves was trading away Phil Kessel, who often played on Malkin’s wing, to the Arizona Coyotes. Kessel scored 174 points over the last two seasons.
Rutherford said he entered this season looking to change the culture of his team and regain some urgency to win.
“Last season, the team never had that total team togetherness,” Rutherford said. “I think some of it came from players being content. I don’t blame them for being content — there’s been some good success here over the last four or five years — but you can’t be content to be successful going forward. So that had to change.”
The Penguins (1-1) host the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night.