Despite a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Friday night, there was little reason to celebrate in Pittsburgh after superstar center Evgeni Malkin took a hard spill in the third period and never returned to the game. After losing his footing thanks to a clean hit from Erik Gudbranson, Malkin crashed brutally into boards, causing his head to snap back violently.
There was no official word on his status after the game, but at first glance it looks very likely that we’re dealing with a concussion. Head coach Dan Bylsma said only that Malkin was “being further evaluated” and that the team would “know more tomorrow.”
The early signs are not good, though. Malkin was clearly dazed after the hit, as you can see in the video. And, even more frighteningly, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review observed that Malkin was having “trouble walking straight” on his way to the locker room.
Malkin had trouble walking straight while going to the locker room. Wouldn’t expect him to return tonight.
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) February 23, 2013
Obviously it’s imperative that the Penguins treat this situation with the greatest of care, and I have no reason to doubt that they will. I may be too optimistic speculating that Geno even stands a chance at all of dressing on Sunday – and lets be clear, it is all truly speculation at this point. And if we’re reading the tea leaves here The Hockey Writers’ own Mike Colligan‘s report that Bylsma is already considering new line combinations may be an indicator that Geno should not be expected back soon.
Bylsma said that if Evgeni Malkin is out for any period of time he’d likely move Sutter to the Neal line & Jeffrey would be 3rd line center
— Mike Colligan (@MikeColligan) February 23, 2013
But I think that even if he doesn’t show any concussion symptoms whatsoever, the Penguins should sit him out against the Lightning, and potentially again on Tuesday against the Panthers, just to be safe.
As explained in this post on Backhand Shelf, the NHL requires a player to pass the Sports Concussion Assessment Test Version 2 (SCAT 2) before returning from a concussion. But some experts think that may not be enough.
Take a look at this quote from the New York Times article on Gabe Landeskog earlier this month:
“When it comes to evaluating concussions, SCAT2 or any of those sideline screening tests really have no reliability,” said Dr. Paul S. Echlin, a concussion specialist and researcher in Burlington, Ontario, who has done two recent studies of concussions in hockey. “If you see it happen and you see the reaction, then you don’t let the player go back in. That’s the worst thing you can do, expose him to a second or third hit that can be really dangerous.”
And if that’s not enough, the Center for Disease Control says:
The signs and symptoms of a concussion can be difficult to sort out. Early on, problems may be missed by the person with the concussion, family members, or doctors. People may look fine even though they are acting or feeling differently.
Some of these symptoms may appear right away, while others may not be noticed for days or months after the injury, or until the person starts resuming their everyday life and more demands are placed upon them. Sometimes, people do not recognize or admit that they are having problems.
The Penguins should be especially conscious of the dangers of letting a concussed player come back too early after what happened with Sidney Crosby in 2011. We may never know how badly he was hurt by the hit from David Steckel in the Winter Classic and how badly he was hurt specifically by the hit in the next game from Victor Hedman, but no one can reasonably argue that he did himself any favors rushing back to the ice.
Like Malkin on Friday, Crosby was able to skate off the ice after taking a hit from Hedman. But we all remember how that story played out. I, for one, still cringe every time I see Sid take a check. I certainly don’t want that to be the case with Geno too.
When dealing with a player as valuable as Malkin, even if the Penguins drop a game or two in his absence, it’s far more important that he’s healthy in the long run.
Update: Malkin not expected to play Sunday:
— Rob Rossi (@RobRossi_Trib) February 23, 2013