Penguins center Nick Bonino hasn’t exactly been an offensive dynamo this season, but he’s been featured in a big way on special teams for Pittsburgh and his loss will impact the penalty kill and power play during his absence.
“He’s going to be missed in a lot of areas,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told PittsburghPenguins.com’s Sam Kasan. “He’s a really smart player. He’s been a big part of the penalty kill. He’s a guy that you can lean on to take faceoffs in the defensive zone when you need him.”
Sullivan didn’t give a timeline on the specifics of Bonino’s injury and said he was “reluctant to put a timeframe on it.” Sullivan added, however, that Bonino’s injury wouldn’t be short-term, which was confirmed by GM Jim Rutherford. Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dave Molinari that Bonino would be out “at least a month.”
Bonino, 27, has scored three goals and 10 points in 40 outings this season. However, Bonino has logged the third-most minutes of any Penguin on the league’s fifth-ranked penalty kill. More than a fifth of Bonino’s minutes have come with Pittsburgh down a man, and he’s often trotted out with Matt Cullen, who has the most minutes of any Penguin on the penalty kill.
Unlike Cullen, though, Bonino has also been a fixture on the power play. Of all Penguins players, Bonino has skated the eighth most minutes with the extra man and gets a regular shift with the second unit. The Penguins’ power play hasn’t exactly been dynamite — it’s ranked 13th in the league at 18.7 percent — but losing someone familiar with the systems isn’t going to help Pittsburgh’s play with the man advantage improve.
One thing that’ll help the Penguins, though, is that Eric Fehr is comfortable down the middle or on the wing. Fehr, 30, was a savvy off-season signing by Pittsburgh and he will fill Bonino’s spot on the third line. Fehr, who missed the first 10 games of the season with an elbow injury, has five goals and seven points in 32 games.
“It’s a position I feel more comfortable in,” Fehr told Kasan. “It will be a change if I get back to the middle. You get into a rhythm with whatever position you’re in when you’re not thinking, you’re just moving, you’re just reacting. When you switch positions you have to get into that groove again.
“It takes a game to get your routes back, your timing back. It really is a different game in the middle than on the wings. It’s a lot more skating. It’s a longer, 200-foot game. It’s a lot more read and react as opposed to the wing.”
Fehr will continue to chip in on the penalty kill, as he has all season, and could log some power play minutes with Bonino out. Fehr netted 19 goals and 33 points in 2014-15 with the Washington Capitals.