Malkin’s dislocated shoulder will keep him out of the season opener Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers and for an undetermined number of games after that. The Penguins have yet to pinpoint a probable date for the return of the player who, a year ago, was considered the best player in the world not in the National Hockey League. For now, the Penguins must be satisfied with this story line: Sidney Crosby vs. the Flyers.
Crosby got a face-first introduction to the NHL in Philadelphia about six weeks into his rookie season. He needed stitches after being high-sticked Nov. 16 in Philadelphia by defenceman Derian Hatcher, then was roughed up again by Hatcher upon returning to the game.
The two run-ins with one of the NHL’s most physical players left Crosby with several chipped teeth and, apparently, a lot of motivation.
Crosby, as an 18-year-old, knew he wouldn’t be given special treatment by NHL officials, but felt that the two plays were worthy of penalties. Angry that no calls were made, he scored two goals – one on an exceptional breakaway in overtime – to give the Penguins a 3-2 victory.
Crosby had only one scoreless game in the eight he played against the Flyers, twice scoring two goals while finishing with seven goals and seven assists against them during his 102-point season. Not that it helped that much: the Flyers won six of eight during the season series.
Until Malkin returns, Crosby must shoulder much of the rebuilding Penguins’ offence – nothing new there – as they try to stop a streak of four consecutive last-place finishes in the Atlantic Division.
The Penguins picked up a number of role players during the off-season – centre Dominic Moore, forwards Nils Ekman and Jarkko Ruutu and defenceman Mark Eaton – but it likely will be Crosby and Malkin who greatly determine how well or poorly the team plays.
Crosby, one of the league’s quickest players as a rookie, has looked stronger and faster than he did a year ago – but, of course, he knows he will be singled out for even more attention this season.
“It was a little tough to adapt to being a rookie,” Crosby said, though his big rookie season suggests otherwise. “Guys are a lot better. I think as the season went along, I got better. I want to make sure I continue to get better.”
The Penguins are opening their 40th season at Mellon Arena, the NHL’s oldest venue, but there are signs they might not have to stay much longer.
Jim Balsillie, co-chief executive officer of Canada’s Research in Motion Ltd., the maker of the Blackberry, is reportedly set to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins for roughly US$175-million.
The purchase is expected to be announced in the next few days.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said this week that the league intends to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh as long as a new arena is built, and Allegheny County chief executive Dan Onorato promised Wednesday that there will be a new building.
“My belief is that the future of the Penguins in Pittsburgh is both long and bright,” Bettman said. “We don’t want to see that team go anywhere, but the team is going to need a new building.”
Thursday’s game will be the first in 17 years in which Craig Patrick won’t be the Penguins general manager. He was replaced last spring by Ray Shero, the former Nashville Predators assistant GM.
While the Penguins won’t have one of their stars on the ice, the Flyers will. Peter Forsberg appears to be over his foot and ankle injuries and is expected to play.
Forsberg missed a quarter of the 2005-06 season, but still had 19 goals and 75 points on a team that finished 45-26-11.
The Flyers won six of eight games from the Penguins last season, winning once in a shootout. The Flyers were 3-1 in Pittsburgh.