At full strength, the Pittsburgh Penguins have an arsenal of stars that’s arguably as deep as any in the NHL.
Right now, they’ll simply settle for a lineup with anyone who’s healthy.
A bevy of injuries and a two-game suspension to defenseman Kris Letang(notes) will leave the Penguins short-handed again Thursday night, when they continue the NHL’s busiest early season schedule against the visiting Montreal Canadiens.
Pittsburgh (4-2-2) knew it would begin the season without forwards Sidney Crosby(notes) and Dustin Jeffrey(notes) along with defenseman Brooks Orpik(notes), but it’s also been forced to play without forwards Evgeni Malkin(notes) (knee) and Tyler Kennedy(notes) (concussion) in the early going.
The Penguins also had to make do without Letang on Tuesday in Minnesota - their league-high eighth game in 13 days - after he was handed a two-game suspension for a boarding penalty he received in Winnipeg a night earlier.
Even Brian Strait(notes), who was called up earlier Tuesday, left with a hyperextended elbow against the Wild, but Pittsburgh managed to stop its losing streak at three. James Neal(notes), who had two goals in 27 games after coming over from Dallas in February, scored his sixth of the season as the undermanned Penguins beat the Wild 4-2.
“It seems some bad luck keeps happening to this team. We keep battling through it and I think we are doing a really good job,” defenseman Zbynek Michalek(notes) told the team’s official website. “We are not a fancy team right now by any means. We just try to do the dirty work, play good defensively and rely on our goaltending.”
Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) should be back in net after Brent Johnson(notes) got the nod Tuesday, and he’ll have one of his more physical defensemen back in front of him. Orpik is set to make his season debut after undergoing hernia surgery in July
His return should provide a boost considering Strait is out and Letang, who had three goals as the Penguins lost to Montreal (1-3-1) in seven games in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, will finish his suspension.
Malkin remains out as he continues to experience lingering soreness in his surgically repaired knee.
The Canadiens, meanwhile, have been held to one goal or fewer in their three regulation losses, but they should get a boost Thursday if Michael Cammalleri(notes) can return. The winger has missed Montreal’s last three games with a leg laceration.
Pittsburgh won’t be too excited if he makes it back, though it was unclear after Thursday’s morning skate if he’d be able to go. Cammalleri had seven goals in the playoff series versus the Penguins, then had three goals and an assist against them last season to help the Canadiens go 3-1-0 in the series. He missed the lone loss due to a viral infection.
Montreal could especially use some help on its power play. The Canadiens converted 19.7 percent of its chances last season - seventh in the league - but are 2 for 21 thus far after going 0 for 5 in a 3-1 loss to Buffalo on Tuesday.
Despite his team’s third straight loss, coach Jacques Martin wasn’t too upset after watching Montreal outshoot the Sabres 41-22.
“To me, we played the game the way we needed to play,” Martin told the league’s official website. “We put pucks behind their (defense), we forechecked, we created chances. But sometimes you don’t control the result.”
Goaltender Carey Price(notes) won both of his starts at Consol Energy Center last season, posting a 1.00 goals-against average. The Penguins haven’t been shut out since Price beat them 3-0 in Pittsburgh on March 12.
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