Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said captain Sidney Crosby will be unavailable for tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers at PPG Paints Arena.
“He will be listed on the NHL COVID protocol list,” Sullivan said.
Per the NHL, being placed on the COVID Related Absences List can be the result of a number of factors including, among others: an initial positive test which remains unconfirmed until confirmatory testing is completed; mandated isolation for symptomatic individuals; required quarantine as a high-risk close contact; isolation based on a confirmed positive test result and/or quarantine for travel; or other reasons as outlined in the COVID-19 Protocol.
And as Sullivan said, just because a player is on that list doesn’t necessarily mean they have COVID-19. For example, defenseman John Marino was placed on the NHL COVID Related Absences List on Wednesday, Feb. 3 and returned to practice two days later.
“As I said to our players, we can do all the right things and this kind of stuff could happen,” Sullivan said. “But there’s protocols put in place for a reason. We will do our very best to adhere to the protocols and control what we can to give ourselves the best chance to win.”
It may be the biggest understatement of the year to say that Crosby’s absence leaves a huge hole in the Penguins lineup. The 33-year-old superstar currently has a team-leading seven goals (tied) and 18 points, and as Sullivan said, he’s an influential player for them in so many different areas.
“He’s not an easy guy to replace by any stretch, but we have been through this experience in the past and found ways to have success,” Sullivan said. “It should provide opportunities for others to step up.”
One player who has a history of doing that throughout his career is Evgeni Malkin. In 146 career games without Crosby, Malkin has 77 goals, 121 assists and 198 points for a 1.14 points-per-game average.
When Crosby missed 28 games last season due to a core muscle injury, Malkin was downright dominant. He piled up a team-best 38 points (11G-27A) in the 26 games he played, leading the Penguins to an 18-6-4 record and a league-best .714 points percentage during that span.
This season, Malkin has been critical of his play thus far, as the 34-year-old superstar has four goals, 12 points and a minus-8 rating through the first 20 games.
But as he said following the Penguins’ 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday, “I’m not happy with my game right now, but it’s coming. I feel it.” And Sullivan agreed.
“We feel as though it’s been trending the right way here for a couple of weeks,” Sullivan said. “In my experience of coaching him, when Sid hasn’t been in the lineup, Geno finds another level to his game. That’s what we’re going to need from him in order to have success. We’re hopeful that he can continue to do that.”
When it comes to filling out the rest of the depth chart at center behind Malkin, Sullivan said they have a few options. Mark Jankowski will not be one of them, as he is out with an upper-body injury. But Sullivan listed Jared McCann and Sam Lafferty as guys who can move into the middle, and added that they are talking with management about potential roster moves.
“We’ll try to put together the best lineup that we can that gives us the best chance to win,” he said.