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Penguins, Sabres, Kings need replacements to step up in the absence of their stars

Three injuries have made the start of the season especially difficult for these teams.

San Jose Sharks v Los Angeles Kings - Game Five Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Lost in the McMatthews bubble that has become the NHL, the league has lost some pretty significant pieces to injury in just the last few days. Three big names have been taken off the board within the last 36 hours, impacting three teams in a variety of ways as the 2016 season gets underway.

A couple of these teams will struggle more than others to fill the gaps left behind by injury, whether by lack of team depth or importance of the player missing. All of the teams, however, now have an air of uncertainty hanging around them as to how they’ll cushion the blow and how effective they’ll be in halting the bleeding so their playoff hopes aren’t dead in the water after the first month.

Sidney Crosby out, Evgeni Malkin in

The biggest name on the list was the first casualty of the week. Sidney Crosby was diagnosed with another concussion after sustaining a hit in practice on Friday, an injury the Penguins captain is all too familiar with. The last time Crosby was out with a concussion, he missed 11 months of the year. Overall, Crosby has missed 107 games — and counting — thanks to concussions.

This puts the Penguins in a bit of a bind. Coming off a Stanley Cup season into one in which they’re favored to repeat, missing the NHL’s best playmaker for any length of time is a tough pill to swallow.

Luckily, the Penguins have a pretty good centerman in Evgeni Malkin that can step in and fill the top line role for Crosby without much difficulty. Matt Cullen could also jump into the No. 1 spot between Chris Kunitz and Garrett Wilson as needed while Eric Fehr can slide into the fourth-line center position to fill that gap. The move will shift the Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel line up to the second, but otherwise very few players will have to shift.

The good news, however, is Crosby is now slated as “day-to-day” according to head coach Mike Sullivan. Pittsburgh’s scoring and power play might suffer without Crosby, but the injury will likely be something the Penguins can shake off without further complications on their captain’s end.

Worry rating: 2 out of 10

Jack Eichel out, Sam Reinhart in

While Toronto and Edmonton are celebrating the success and talent of their young stars, once again Buffalo will be left in the dust. Eichel fell awkwardly in practice on Wednesday and twisted his leg in a way that’s 100 percent unnatural. The result is a “moderate” ankle sprain that could keep Eichel out of the Sabres lineup for “weeks.”

For a Buffalo team that’s looking to emerge out of the pack for a potential playoff spot, missing Eichel will be a huge blow to their offense. The Sabres don’t have the depth of the Penguins to withstand losing one of their biggest producers on offense, and a bad start to their season could cripple any chance of keeping up with the rest of the Atlantic.

Yet, the Sabres do have some options to fill the gaps. Our own Die By the Blade has a few solid suggestions for Buffalo, one of which involves moving young Sam Reinhart back to his natural center position:

The good news here is that the Sabres do have another very talented young player on the roster with plenty of experience at center in Sam Reinhart. Moving him to the pivot alongside Evander Kane means that the team would need another right winger to fill Reinhart’s spot, and the two most likely candidates would be Matt Moulson or Hudson Fasching, assuming Bylsma wants to keep the Foligno-Larsson-Gionta line together.


Were I a betting man, I would think Reinhart slides to center and someone, probably Moulson or Fasching, gets moved up.

Also suggested are breaking up Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson from their respective lines, but moving Reinhart seems to be the most likely option.

Still, it’ll be hard to fill the hole that is left behind in Eichel’s absence. The second overall pick from 2015 is the face of the Sabres, and missing him will no doubt take the wind out of Buffalo’s sails to start the new season.

Worry rating: 6 out of 10

Jonathan Quick out, Jeff Zatkoff/Peter Budaj/Jack Campbell in

Oh boy, Los Angeles. It’s never good to see your starting netminder go down to injury, but it’s worse when your backups top out at a .915 career save percentage.

The Kings might be in trouble after Jonathan Quick was removed from their opening game against the Sharks after just one period of play. Quick’s temper flared during a confrontation with Joe Pavelski near the end of the first period but remained in the game. The netminder made a few awkward saves in his end but seemed no worse for wear.

Yet, Quick is being evaluated for a lower body injury. There’s no news yet on the status of the Kings netminder, but a lot hangs in the balance. Quick may not be at the pinnacle of the NHL’s netminders, but his importance to the Kings cannot be understated. The Kings go where Quick goes and an injured Quick is worrisome for Los Angeles.

The trio of Zatkoff, Budaj, and Campbell is a less-than-stellar group on paper. Zatkoff did prove himself for one game on a postseason stage and is known to be a fine backup, but has never carried a starting role in his four-year NHL career. Budaj has 297 games of NHL experience, but a career .903 save percentage. Campbell has just one NHL game to his name, and that was back in the 2013-14 season.

None of the goaltenders assembled for Los Angeles seems ready to take on a starter’s role. Either Dean Lombardi goes after someone on the trade market should Quick’s diagnosis go south or a combination of Zatkoff, Budaj, and Campbell gets used in the time being. Or Quick makes a miraculous recovery and saves the Kings from possible implosion. Los Angeles can only hope.

Worry rating: 9 out of 10