AFTERMATH: Even with injuries, ‘desperate’ Pens too much for Devils

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

Sidney Crosby used one of his favorite words after the Penguins’ 6-4 win over New Jersey on Friday at PPG Paints Arena.

“Desperate.”

Crosby mentioned it regularly when the Penguins evolved into a Stanley Cup contender a year ago. It has come up less often this season, but the recent string of injuries gave him a reason to start referencing the term again.

“That’s got to be our mindset,” he said after tallying two goals and an assist in the win. “That’s not a bad thing necessarily this time of year. If we can get desperate because of that (injury bug), then hopefully that helps us down the stretch. But hopefully we can get some healthy bodies back here shortly.”

Evgeni Malkin and Ron Hainsey became the latest Penguins to end up on the sideline. Hainsey (upper-body injury) will not return for at least another week or two. Malkin’s status is murkier, as coach Mike Sullivan indicated the ailment has bothered the star center but only became an issue to address with gameday rest on Friday.

Different names claimed headlines as a result of the injury bug. Derrick Pouliot landed in the lineup for just the second time in 2017. Carter Rowney’s first NHL goal served as the game-winner. Tom Kuhnhackl dished out two of the night’s prettier assists.

“Tommy doesn’t play a ton of minutes for us, but he plays really important minutes for us,” Sullivan said of Kuhnhackl. “That’s what we value, as far as what he brings to the team. He’s strong on the wall. He’s a real good penalty killer. He’s a great shot blocker. We can use him in defensive situations. I can play him on the right side and the left side.”

Even Phil Kessel embraced versatility, as the long-time right winger roamed the left half of the ice while out with Patric Hornqvist and Matt Cullen. Perhaps consequently, he ended his 13-game goal drought with a shot off the rush from the left circle.

“Obviously we’d like to get him going offensively, and we thought it might just tweak his mindset a little bit,” Sullivan said. “Just moving people around a little bit. We’ve got so many moving parts at this point, trying to put combinations together that we think can give us some sort of a balanced attack. So we tried it, and he was willing to do it. Fortunately for us, he scores. Hopefully that’ll get him going a little more consistently down the stretch.”

One lineup move created more questions than answers: Sullivan dressed Tom Sestito and only used him for two minutes and seven seconds of ice time.

That arrangement looked particularly unwise after Conor Sheary missed a portion of the second period when a puck hit him in the face as he sat on the bench.

Could the Penguins have benefitted more from Cameron Gaunce as a seventh defenseman or from Oskar Sundqvist or Josh Archibald sticking around? That’s a reasonable question to ask. But like Crosby suggested, the Penguins appear to handle adversity in all of its forms with a healthy dose of desperation.

“You can’t really change anything as far as matchups and things like that,” Crosby said. “You just focus on whoever you’re playing against and making sure that as a line we’re creating things and contributing. … I don’t think anybody is necessarily going to replace Geno, so collectively we’ve got to find ways to gain momentum, keep it and give ourselves a chance here.”

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