PITTSBURGH – Penguins defenceman Sergei Gonchar will be out four-to-six weeks with a broken left wrist, his third significant injury in slightly more than a year.
Gonchar, who went into Wednesday’s games third in scoring among NHL defencemen with eight points, missed the first 56 games of last season after undergoing left shoulder surgery.
The 35-year-old also played the final two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring with a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee, although he missed only two games.
Gonchar’s latest injury occurred during a collision with a St. Louis Blues player during the second period of the Penguins’ 5-1 victory Tuesday night. TV replays did not clearly show the hit.
Gonchar will not need surgery.
“It’s an unfortunate break,” coach Dan Bylsma said Wednesday. “It wasn’t a hard hit, it wasn’t a late hit. It was a normal hit, (a player) finishing a check. He must have caught him in an unfortunate spot.”
The Penguins were 17-4-4 when Gonchar played last season. They are 8-1 this season and have won six games in a row, but now must replace their most-used player.
Gonchar is averaging slightly more than 24 minutes per game, or three more minutes than any other Penguins defenceman. With Gonchar out, former Colorado defenceman Martin Skoula – scratched for the first nine games – is expected to play, and defencemen Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski will split time on the top power-play unit.
“I think right now you have to feel good about the signing of Martin Skoula,” Bylsma said. “For nine games he was the odd man out and he wondered how he would get in. Now we have a guy with 700-plus NHL games were are going to insert into the lineup.”
Gonchar is one of the NHL’s top point men on the power play, and his lengthy absence last season was partly to blame for the Penguins finishing 20th on the power play despite having two of the NHL’s top three scorers. They are 18th this season.
“It’s tough to replace that veteran presence,” Bylsma said. “But I think you saw early on we were rotating those three on the power play. We have an opportunity for those two guys (Goligoski and Letang) to take that particular spot.”
The Penguins remained competitive the last two seasons despite lengthy injury layoffs by Sidney Crosby, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Gonchar.
“Our team has shown in the past they have the ability to do that (withstand injuries),” Bylsma said.
The Penguins were off Wednesday and did not practice. They play again Friday at home against Florida.