After a three-day holiday break, the Pittsburgh Penguins skate back into action tonight verse the Carolina Hurricanes amid several returns and one major absence. The Pens are thirty-nine games into the 2013-2014 season and haven't had their full compliment of talent in any contest so far. Thanks to a strange curse of injuries and a couple of suspensions, the Penguins lead the NHL with 210 man-games lost. The hockey gods are smiling on the black and Vegas Gold though, as the team miraculously leads the Eastern Conference with 55 points (27-11-1). Tonight's Metropolitan Divisional matchup will be a nice change of pace for the Penguins. There will be players returning to the lineup instead of being pulled from it.
Well, not everyone that is . . .
The Penguins will have a major void to fill as Pascal Dupuis's knee injury threatens to end his season. Dupuis, who had played every game this season and has 20 points (seven goals), will have ACL surgery in about two weeks. Dupuis's knee was mangled when a leveled Sidney Crosby fell unto in after a Marc Methot check in Ottawa Monday night. The initial timetable for his return is there is no timetable. ACL surgery is usually season-ending and that is what the Penguins are preparing for.
Pens coach Dan Bylsma endeavors to remain optimistic, saying, "The timetable is likely that he’ll be out for the remainder of the season, but we’ll see after the surgery in a couple weeks.”
Bylsma added, "He plays in every situation, has played on the top line with Crosby and Kunitz, he's a top-three PK guy for our team. There's a lot that he brings. He’s also a big part of that dressing room. That is part of what we’ll miss from Pascal.”
Sidney Crosby said, "It's not easy. We've played together for a long time . . . there are a lot of things he does well."
Joe Vitale will be slotted into Dupuis's spot on the first line. Since his NHL career started in 2010, Vitale has been a fourth line grinder for the Penguins. He has the speed to keep up with Crosby and Kunitz, but lacks the consistent scoring touch of the player he's replacing. This year has been very good for Vitale on the stats-sheet as his eleven points (ten assists) is three off his career high of fourteen set during the 2011-2012 campaign.
On playing with Vitale, Crosby said, "He creates a lot of loose pucks, goes to the net hard. I don't think he really has to change his game at all."
Vitale said, "There's pressure whenever you get a little bit of a promotion . . . but I think it's good pressure."
Dupuis's bad news not only overshadows Vitale's promotion but also the returns of Brooks Orpik, Deryk Engelland, and Tanner Glass. The highlight of that list is definitely Brooks Oprik, who has not played in the last eight games thanks to two Shawn Thornton sucker punches. Engelland comes back to the Pens after serving his five game suspension via his questionable hit on Detroit's Justin Abdelkader. After the Ottawa Senators exposed some holes in the Pens rookie defensive core, the two veterans' returns are very welcomed indeed. Both players like to throw heavy hits and get into passing/shooting lanes. So does forward Tanner Glass, who has been out of the lineup since November 23rd with a broken hand.
The pucks drops at 7:00pm.
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