Pittsburgh’s defeat of Washington in a 6-2 score in Game 2 is likely to overshadow three potential injuries sustained by their squad. Largely because of the shot-blocking mentality of the Pittsburgh squad, and the absurd number of shot attempts from Washington (35 in just the first period), injuries are bound to occur. Losing 3 players in one game, however, is a massive blow for any team. Although coach Mike Sullivan did not reveal any updates, stating that the players needed to be re-evaluated in Pittsburgh, there is cause for concern for fans.
Patric Hornqvist was the first to fall, after blocking a slapper off his foot/ankle area. He was forced to attempt to defend although doubled over. He left for the locker room and did not return, heavily favoring his one leg. Hornqvist had been performing remarkably well since his promotion to the top line with Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby. He had posted 5 points in 7 games, connecting with solid passes with the two skilled forwards. Conor Sheary returned to his spot at the top in Hornqvist’s absence, with Phil Kessel even seeing spot duty.
Tom Kuhnhackl took a shot off his upper arm and was seen in a good deal of pain as the puck caught in his equipment. Players gathered around and tried to squib the biscuit free before Kuhnhackl was called for delay of game. His penalty had to be served by a teammate, however, as he immediately left the ice and stayed out of competition. Finally, defenseman Ron Hainsey had an incredibly scary moment after getting in the lane of an Alex Ovechkin shot. The shot rocketed up rather steeply, and Hainsey turned his head in a reactionary move of avoidance and protection. The back of his head was struck, near the right ear. Hainsey writhed in extreme discomfort in what one can only hope wasn’t a permanently damaging situation. He also did not return.
None of these players are easily expendable. Kuhnhackl might at face seem to be an easily replaceable part, but when out of the lineup the Pittsburgh penalty kill has struggled mightily. He also has 24 hits through 7 games, and is one of the most consistently aggravating forwards in the roster. Hornqvist is definitively the most irritating and imposing physical player on the Penguins, and his offensive ability and net-front presence only add to his immense value. This is a player who is largely considered to be an integral piece, who can be slotted on any line and play in any situation. Losing the two most physical players they have is a large blow to a team that has been dominated physically by Washington. Hainsey has struggled at times in these playoffs, but has consistently been toward the top in ice time around 20 minutes, while facing a high quality of competition and blocking well on the penalty kill. In his absence, one of Justin Schultz or Trevor Daley will need to improve their game in their own zone. Turnovers and blown coverage have plagued both players throughout April. Olli Maatta’s improvement in the wake of Kris Letang’s long term injury has been huge, but too many defenders are struggling to sustain more losses.
In the worst case scenario, the replacement forwards would most probably be Scott Wilson and Carter Rowney, with Josh Archibald likely to be the first call-up. On the backend, Sullivan could opt to go with the veteran offensive defenseman Mark Streit, or instead choose the quieting influence of the stable Chad Ruhwedel. The Penguins have consistently been toward the top of the league in man-games lost, and this season was no different. The franchise has continued to find a way to compete in spite of poor luck, but losses such as these would significantly hurt their cup chances.
Update: Josh Yohe for DKPittsburghSports reports that the injuries for Kuhnhackl and Hainsey may not be serious after all, but information remains sparse. Additionally, the original publication had incorrectly linked Washington’s Tom Wilson instead of Pittsburgh’s Scott Wilson.