PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins are down two of their top wings, coach Mike Sullivan said after practice Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena.
Brian Rust is being evaluated for a lower-body injury, while Rickard Rakell is out “long-term” with an upper-body injury, Sullivan said. Neither player practiced Tuesday.
Rust has been one of the most productive players for the Penguins, scoring 9 goals and 16 points in 17 games. He has been a mainstay on Captain Sidney Crosby’s top line.
Raquel, a regular on Evgeni Malkin’s line, was off to a terrible start. He has only four assists in 17 games.
“Injuries are part of the game,” Sullivan said of the Penguins’ relatively healthy streak this season.
The Penguins are 6-2-0 after going 3-6-0 to open the season. They are fourth in the Eastern Conference wild-card standings, two points behind the Carolina Hurricanes.
Pittsburgh plays the New York Rangers on Wednesday night. The team travels to Buffalo to play the Sabers on Friday night and returns to Pittsburgh for a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. After that, the Penguins will play five of their six games on the road.
How much will this affect the penguins?
a lot of. The Penguins will count on their top two lines to produce maximum output. That happened without Raquel even announcing it, but a lack of rust would be a huge blow to the top line that carried the club so closely. There are no obvious options to replace either Rust or Raquel because most of the forwards are the bottom-six type that general manager Kyle Dubas brought to the organization.
The lack of rust is a particularly hard blow. He’s been the Penguins’ best wing player this season from a production and consistency standpoint. He is also one of their top penalty killers and an option to mix with the high power play.
The Penguins don’t have many players who can bring Rusty’s tenacity and go along with his speed. He is a leader on and off the ice.
If his absence is only for a few games, the Penguins will probably be fine. But if he misses Weeks, the Penguins could lose ground in the playoffs they’re chasing early. – Rob Rossi, Penguin Senior Writer
What does it mean for Crosby and Malkin?
This is a real problem for the Penguins. Especially if Rust misses any time, more pressure will fall on Crosby and Malkin. Rust is the Penguins’ best wing player this season and is Crosby’s preferred right wing.
As currently constructed, the Penguins have no sensible option to replace Rakell in the top six. If Rust slips at any point, you’ll be minus two top-six players. This strikes me as a major problem for a team that already struggles to produce scoring depth.
Crosby and Malkin have been great this season. Maybe they should be more now. – Josh Yeoh, Penguins staff writer
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(Photo: Philip G. Pavelli / USA Today)