What Evgeni Malkin's Concussion Means for the Pittsburgh Penguins

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent IFebruary 25, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 10: Evgeni Malkin # 71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins against the New Jersey Devils during the first period on February 10, 2013 at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Vincent Pugliese/ Getty Images)
Vincent Pugliese/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins entered the 2013 season with superstar forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin healthy and ready to lead the franchise back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Unfortunately for the Penguins, Malkin now has a concussion (via Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), and it's an injury that could have a gigantic impact on the team's success moving forward.

The injury occurred during Friday's game with the Florida Panthers when Malkin collided with Erik Gudbranson and crashed into the end boards (video below).

The latest update on his status was provided by the Penguins Monday afternoon.

Malkin ranks fourth in the league in scoring with 21 points (four goals, 17 assists) in 18 games. The Penguins have enough talent at forward to play well and defeat quality teams without Malkin, but winning the Stanley Cup will be a difficult challenge if the star center misses a prolonged period of time because of his concussion.

Let's examine how his injury impacts the Penguins right now.

James Neal Will Play with Sidney Crosby

Star winger James Neal will be impacted the most by Malkin's absence in the lineup. Neal ranks second in the league with 12 goals, and nine of those scores were assisted by Malkin.

When Malkin is healthy and playing well, the Penguins have the best second line in hockey because him and Neal are the best center/winger duo in the NHL.

Without him, Pittsburgh loses a huge part of its impressive scoring depth because Crosby is the only top-tier center in the lineup when Malkin is injured. Third-line center Brandon Sutter will likely fill in for Malkin on the second line.

For as long as Malkin is unable play, expect Neal to be moved up to the Penguins' first line so he can play with Crosby, which is what head coach Dan Bylsma decided to do against the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday night. Crosby talked about playing with Neal following the game (via the Penguins' Twitter account):

Playing without Malkin will be an adjustment for Neal, but he should be just as productive offensively with Crosby feeding him passes.

Sidney Crosby Must Carry the Team's Offense

When Crosby was injured for most of last season, Malkin was forced to carry the team offensively. The Russian star accepted the challenge and responded by leading the league with 109 points (50 goals, 59 assists) and winning the Hart Trophy.

Now it's Crosby's turn to shoulder the majority of the scoring burden, and there's no reason to believe that the 25-year-old forward will fail to impress.

Crosby ranks second in the NHL with 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists), and he has scored 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his last six games.

Crosby has been one of the league's most consistent players this season with points in 13 of his team's 15 games. Aside from his impressive scoring numbers, Crosby also ranks second on the team in face-off percentage (56.4), first in shots (68) and first in plus/minus rating (8).

He is helping his team at both ends of the ice, and sets a strong example each shift with his effort and hard work in all three zones.

In Sunday's 5-3 victory over the Lightning, Crosby had two goals and an assist in the team's first game without Malkin. Expect more performances like this from Crosby while Malkin is out of the lineup, especially when he has an elite scorer such as Neal on his wing.

The Power Play Will Still be Amazing Without Malkin

Malkin is a major part of the Penguins' power play, which has the third-best success rate in the league (28 percent). He also leads the NHL in power play assists (11) and points (14).

Not having his playmaking ability with the man-advantage is going to make the Penguins' power play a little easier to defend, but any unit that features immensely talented offensive players such as  Crosby, Neal and Kris Letang is going to give opposing teams a lot to worry about on the penalty kill.

Neal and Crosby have 12 and 11 power play points, respectively, so there is still plenty of firepower at forward for Bylsma to put on his top power play unit with Malkin unavailable. Letang is also one of the best offensive defenseman in the league and a top power play quarterback.

Chris Kunitz joined the team's top power play unit with Crosby, Neal, Letang and Paul Martin during Sunday's game. Expect this group of five to stay together on the first unit while Malkin recovers from his injury.

The Penguins' power play has been successful all season, and it's one of the main reasons why the team ranks second in the NHL in goals scored. Even without Malkin's extraordinary skill, Pittsburgh's dominance in 5-on-4 situations will likely continue.

The Penguins Know How to Handle This Situation

No team in the NHL is better prepared to deal with the loss of a star player than the Penguins. Crosby's injury issues kept him out of the lineup for most of last season, and during the 2010-11 season, Malkin missed the second half of the year with a torn ACL.

Pittsburgh was able to win games consistently and make the playoffs in both of those seasons, so don't expect this team to be any less competitive in the Eastern Conference if Malkin misses a few games or a few months with a concussion.

Even if Malkin is cleared to play in the near future, the Penguins would be wise to give him some additional rest because unlike a lot of NHL players, he has played competitive hockey since September because he went to the KHL during the lockout.

Losing a superstar like Malkin will hurt the Penguins' offense and power play, but it's not a setback that will prevent the team from being a contender to win the Eastern Conference in 2013. General manager Ray Shero has built a roster that is strong enough to compete without one of its two best players healthy and in the lineup.

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs.


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