CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The Penguins were a little more coy about their injuries than most teams are at this time of year, but rest assured they were at least somewhat held back by health in their abbreviated Stanley Cup playoff run.
One day after the Russian hockey federation revealed Yevgeni Malkin has a knee injury that will hold him out of the IIHF World Championships, there were some admissions about players who were limited, but the biggest news was that Phil Kessel‘s purported injury problems were more of the cumulative variety, not severe.
Or, to use Mike Sullivan‘s words after Wednesday’s locker-room cleanout at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex …
“He was dealing with bumps and bruises, just like some of our other guys,” Sullivan said. “I’d rather not get into the list of injuries guys had. It was nothing significant. I can tell you that.”
If that sounds a little spicy, maybe that was the intent, but as Pittsburgh Hockey Now reported last week, the Penguins were on the verge of replacing Kessel in the lineup with Daniel Sprong. Kessel was not available to reporters Wednesday, so it seems we’ll never know what specifically was ailing him.
Jim Rutherford was a little gentler about the NHL’s reigning iron man. Kessel hasn’t missed a game — regular-season or playoffs — since the 2009-10 season. This was arguably Kessel’s most consistent regular season ever, headlined by a career-high 92 points and a return to the 30-goal plateau that eluded him over the previous three years.
Kessel produced nine points in 12 playoff games, a fine output for most players, but he put just 18 pucks on target in the postseason and generally seemed to shy away from the high-traffic areas of the ice. He scored but one goal, in a Game 3 win at Philadelphia in the first round.
“He’s actually dealt with injuries all year,” Rutherford said. “To his credit, he played through those during the regular season. But his playoff (wasn’t) what it has been the last couple of years. I know that some of those things he dealt with caught up to him.”
Rutherford added that Kessel won’t need surgery over the summer to repair his various issues.
Just as interesting as the Kessel talk was discussion on Derick Brassard, who missed a couple of weeks late in the regular season with a lower-body injury. He returned in time for the playoffs, but didn’t give the Penguins the anticipated offensive boost they were expecting from their third line. Actually, Riley Sheahan was the de facto third-line center by the end of the second-round series against the Capitals.
According to Rutherford, there was a good reason for that.
“(Brassard) played with an injury that was very difficult to play with,” Rutherford said. “He got an injury that he couldn’t overcome. It made it difficult to play the way he was capable.”
Brassard himself admitted he probably came back too soon to let the injury fully heal, but the opportunity to win his first Stanley Cup motivated him to push himself and get back on the ice. Brassard wouldn’t speak on the exact nature of the injury, although he noted it won’t require offseason surgery.
“At this time of the year, everyone is going through some injuries,” “I was dealing with some stuff. Maybe I came back too quick, but I wanted to be there for Game 1 and help the team as much as I (could). Tried to forget about that and push as hard as I can.”
He then explained his decision to not describe what was bothering him.
“I don’t want to use that as an excuse,” Brassard said. “Everyone was trying to play through some injuries. I don’t think it’s something I want to do, like, ‘I was playing with two injuries or three.’ It is what it is. I’ll just try to come back next year and be better.”
Dominik Simon was a similar case, although it doesn’t seem he was as limited by questionable health. The rookie winger who often found himself in the top six at playoff time had his left thumb wrapped while speaking with reporters.
He said he was hurt during the playoffs but it wasn’t enough to keep him out of the lineup. In fact, he wouldn’t rule out playing in the World Championships for his native Czech Republic.
“It’s not that bad,” Simon said.
Sidney Crosby said he had no specific injuries that limited him beyond the usual “wear and tear,” but he said he’ll be sitting out the World Championships. Three years ago, he helped Canada to a gold medal after the Penguins were eliminated in the first round.
Patric Hörnqvist missed two games against the Flyers with what was believed to be an upper-body injury of some sort, but he brushed off any thought that it affected him for the rest of the playoffs. He finished with 11 points (five goals) in 10 games.
“Top secret,” Hörnqvist said, cheekily declining to reveal the nature of the injury. “I’m good. I’m healthy.”
It also bears mentioning — given his injury history — that Kris Letang copped to no lingering problems at the end of a 91-game season.
Keep it here on Pittsburgh Hockey Now throughout the offseason as Dan Kingerski, Shelly Anderson and me will have complete coverage of how the Penguins regroup and revamp!