Mindset Key as Injuries Pile Up for Pens

Pens lose another to possible injury Monday

Josh Rowntree
December 02, 2019 - 1:33 pm
Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano (5) and Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Patric Hornqvist (72) battle for the puck in front of Flames goaltender David Rittich (33) during the first period at PPG Paints Arena

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

All they can do is laugh it off, and then keep playing.

That’s become the mindset of the injury-riddled Penguins in the last fews days, as the depth of the organization has been tested, perhaps, like it’s never been before. 

On the shelf is a strong group of starters, including captain Sidney Crosby. But he has been joined by forwards Bryan Rust and Nick Bjugstad, as well as defensemen Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin.

On Monday, another injury was added to the ever-mounting list, as winger Patric Hornqvist left practice after a fall and suffered an unspecified lower-body injury.

“I mean, at this point, you just have to smile and say ‘(expletive), come on,’” forward Jared McCann said. “It’s okay. We have depth in this room, we have guys who are great leaders and bring the team up.

“You’re going to have injuries, I get that. Definitely not this many. But we have guys stepping up each night.”

Still though, the amount of injuries to key players is something just about everyone on Pittsburgh’s roster has never seen. 

“I don’t think I have, not to this extent,” defenseman Marcus Pettersson said. “You’ve got to go through them. A lot of teams go through injuries, we just unfortunately got them at the same time.”

Obviously, Crosby’s injury is the most serious. Losing a captain is tough. Losing one of the games all-time greats is tougher. 

But, most recently, Dumoulin’s injury is one that could be the most taxing to the team’s defensive groups, as he’ll miss around eight weeks due to ankle surgery. The 28-year-old was a plus-17 this season, third-best in the NHL. 

“It’s no doubt that he’s a huge part of this team, a huge part of the (defensive) corps,” fellow blue-liner Chad Ruhwedel said. “His stats have spoken for themselves over the years.”

To make up for the losses, especially that of Dumoulin, Pittsburgh will need a team effort, something that has not fully happened over the past two games, which have each ended in 5-2 losses to Columbus and St. Louis. The Penguins host St. Louis Wednesday night.

“I think we’ve got great depth defensively in this organization,” defenseman Jack Johnson added. “It’s a luxury to have. A lot of teams don’t have that. But the forwards have helped us out a lot. 

“To play good team defense in this league, it’s not just the (defense) and the goalie. The forwards are a huge part of that and they’ve helped us out a lot.”

Perhaps the person tested the most in this is Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, who is tasked with not only the schematic issues of the voids left by the injuries, but also the mental approach his team takes on a daily basis. 

“All we can do is control the controllables,” Sullivan said. “Some of this stuff is out of our control. Guys get hurt, it’s part of the game. Every team goes through it. We’re not different. We just have to make sure that we keep our mindset in the right place, and that always starts with the head coach.”

It’s a philosophy that Sullivan is trying to instill in his players. Opportunities are there to step up, rise to the occasion and deliver until teammates are healthy enough to rejoin. And the more players Sullivan can get to fully embrace that, the better. 

“We’ve just got to stick together,” winger Jake Guentzel said. “We believe in this group and we believe that we have the guys to get it done. We can’t dwell on the injuries. We’ve got to stick together.”

Hear more from Mike Sullivan below.