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Minus Sidney Crosby And Evgeni Malkin, The Penguins Begin A Busy Month

How the Penguins fare in February will likely set their path for playoff positioning.

Now that the NHL all-star break is in the rear view mirror, the Pittsburgh Penguins are ready to gear up for a busy February that could propel them back to the playoffs.  Beginning with tonight's game in Manhattan against the New York Rangers, the Pens will play four games in the next six days, and overall will play 14 games in the next 26.

Throw in four separate sets of back-to-back games and three afternoon contests, and the shortest month of the year will probably feel like one of the longest for the team.

It could feel even longer as superstar centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin rehabilitate from their respective injuries. The Pens have managed to survive without their two game-breakers, going 2-1 without Malkin and 5-3-1 since Crosby got knocked out of the lineup.  

It's no secret how they've managed to do that, either. In seven of the nine games without Crosby, they've held opponents to two or fewer goals. They're 5-1-1 when the defense and goaltending comes through like that. The two occasions where the Pens have given up two goals or more, they have not won. It's clear that without the offensive talents of their stars, the Pens need to keep the other team off the board.

Help could be on the way soon. Crosby began light workouts recently, a good sign that his symptoms have waned. Hopefully his progress will continue. Malkin, who's dealing with knee injury and a sinus infection, was held out of the all-star game due to the illness and not the knee injury, if you believe head coach Dan Bylsma. If that's truly the case, Malkin's stay on the shelf shouldn't last much longer either.

Neither star will be in the lineup tonight against the Rangers, so the team will have to rally around its defense and lesser lights in order to get one the busiest months of the year off on the right foot.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.