Microgreenskit – A small contingent of fans will return to PPG Paints Arena for the first time in nearly a year for a Tuesday night rivalry game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Sidney Crosby, on the other hand, would not.
Coach Mike Sullivan said on Tuesday that the Penguins captain would be placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list. Crosby will not play, and no date has been set for his return.
The Penguins were forced to cancel a morning skate at the last minute, as per NHL policy, and reshuffle their lineup to fill a hole in the center due to the unwelcome news.
“It’s difficult,” Sullivan admitted. “With his influence in the locker room and on the bench, he’s a vital player for us in a lot of ways. He’s not an easy guy to replace by any stretch of the imagination, but we’ve been through this before and found ways to succeed.”
Sullivan stressed that a player’s presence on the list does not indicate that he has tested positive. Other factors a player may be in the protocol involve an unconfirmed initial positive test or a high-risk near touch.
Nonetheless, the timing of the announcement is a gut blow to the team and its backers. With about 2,800 fans (15 percent capacity) inside the arena, the day was meant to reflect Western Pennsylvania rounding a corner in the battle against COVID-19. Instead, it started with a reminder that the virus is still present in our lives.
“As I told our players, we can do all right and still have this kind of thing happen,” Sullivan said.
Crosby is the third Penguins player this season to be named on the protocol list. Kasperi Kapanen was mentioned as a formality when he arrived late to training camp from Finland, having completed his NHL-mandated quarantine time. John Marino, a defenseman, was briefly on the protocol list. Sullivan gave similar warnings about the protocol at the time, and Marino did not skip a single session.
Crosby’s absence would bring the Penguins’ depth at the center to the test on the ice. They had to transfer Sam Lafferty to the middle of the last two games because fourth-line center Mark Jankowski was hurt. Jankowski is also day-to-day with an upper-body injury and will not play on Tuesday. Another center candidate, Evan Rodrigues, is currently on injured reserve.
When asked about players who could fill the hole in the center, Sullivan immediately suggested Jared McCann. With Jason Zucker out longer, McCann skated on Evgeni Malkin’s left-wing in a top-six position. However, with Crosby being the second member of the top six to be benched, the lines would almost definitely need to be reshuffled dramatically.
Crosby recently hit 1,000 games in his career. In 20 games, he has seven goals and 11 assists.
The emphasis and aspirations inevitably turn to Evgeni Malkin, the other star center with the captain out. When Crosby has been out of the lineup, the big Russian has found a way to elevate his game. He most recently stepped up last year to become one of the key reasons the Penguins were able to accumulate the best record in the NHL when they were without the league’s biggest star.
“In my experience coaching him, when Sid isn’t in the lineup, Geno lifts his game to a new level,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to need that from him if we’re going to succeed.”
Malkin recently confirmed that he is still unhappy with his results. He has just four goals and eight assists in 20 games. Perhaps this adversity, combined with a little extra energy from fans, will reignite the star.
Fans welcome back!
Although the main attraction will be absent, the Penguins anticipate seeing a portion of their fan base return to the arena. The game will be the first with fans at PPG Paints Arena since its defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes on March 8, 2020.
Sullivan shared his enthusiasm by saying, “We’re very excited.” “They play such an important role in the experience. It hasn’t been easy for a while to play in abandoned buildings. I believe our players are ecstatic about the prospect of getting fans back in the building.
“We appreciate our fans’ unwavering support during this tough period. We assume we have some of the most dedicated supporters in sports. Over the years, these guys have been incredibly supportive of our players. I’m sure our players will appreciate it.”
Updates on injuries
On Tuesday morning, Rodrigues and Brian Dumoulin skated with the taxi squad to recover from injuries. Juuso Riikola, on the other hand, has been skating with the main party.