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Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Gonchar out 4 to 6 months with shoulder injury

PITTSBURGH - Penguins defenceman Sergei Gonchar will have arthroscopic surgery on his dislocated left shoulder Thursday and miss four to six months of the upcoming NHL season.

Gonchar has cartilage and ligament damage, the team said Tuesday. He was hurt during Pittsburgh's pre-season opener against Tampa Bay Sept. 20 and had hoped to avoid surgery.

"It is always difficult to lose a very talented player and leader for an extended period of time, but we all believe this is the best decision for Sergei," general manager Ray Shero said in a statement.

Gonchar will have surgery in Pittsburgh. He did not accompany the team to Europe, where last season's Stanley Cup runners-up play an exhibition game Thursday in Helsinki against Finland's Jokerit team before opening the NHL season Saturday and Sunday against Ottawa in Sweden.

The 34-year-old Gonchar had 12 goals and 53 assists last season for 65 points, second among NHL defenceman, after tying a career-high 67 points in 2006-07 (13 goals, 54 assists).

Gonchar has 37 goals and 153 assists in three seasons with the Penguins, after spending all or part of 11 seasons with the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins.

The Penguins also expect to be without their other top offensive defenceman Ryan Whitney until at least January. Whitney had surgery in August to correct a chronic bone problem in his left foot.

The injuries are a setback to a team that will begin the season without two of its top scorers from last season - late-season pickup Marian Hossa, the third-leading scorer during the playoffs and forward Ryan Malone. Hossa signed with Stanley Cup champion Detroit and Malone went to Tampa Bay.

Gonchar plays an important role on a developing team filled with young stars, including Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin.

Malkin, in particular, has been helped by him. Gonchar often served as an interpreter for the Russian-speaking Malkin, who has lived with Gonchar and his wife, much like Crosby lives with team owner Mario Lemieux. While Malkin confesses to being unsure of his English, he has spoken to the media on his own this pre-season.

Shero said the Penguins are confident Gonchar will "come back strong after this surgery. In the meantime, we'll look to our other defencemen to step up in his absence."

That most likely means an expanded role for 21-year-old Kris Letang, who failed to make the team out of training camp last season but grew into a major role when he was called up later in the year. Letang had six goals, 11 assists in 63 games with the Penguins last season.

It likely also turns up the heat on 23-year-old Alex Goligoski, who was already being viewed as an option to replace Whitney before Gonchar was hurt. Goligoski played just three games with the Penguins last season, scoring two assists, but management hopes he'll play well enough to remain in Pittsburgh and not at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL.

The loss of Whitney and Gonchar figures to thrust Brooks Orpik into more of a leadership role on the team, especially given the six-year, US$22.5 million contract he signed in the off-season.

The Penguins also may rely heavily on Mark Eaton, returning from season-ending knee surgery in January; Hal Gill, obtained for draft picks from Toronto in February; and Darryl Sydor and Rob Scuderi.


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