- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 9, 2011

PITTSBURGH | Sidney Crosby’s return date from a concussion is still unknown. Evgeni Malkin is headed toward surgery and won’t play again until next season. Chris Kunitz is day to day, and Mike Comrie, Mark Letestu and Arron Asham are all sidelined with various injuries.

May as well add one more Pittsburgh Penguin to the out-of-action bunch.

At least the Penguins know for sure when forward Matt Cooke will return to the lineup. He’ll be back once he’s done serving a four-game suspension, brought down by the NHL on Wednesday.

Indeed, it is a tough time for the short-handed Penguins. How much do they miss their injured stars? Well, consider they have just one goal combined in consecutive losses. And they’re not catching any breaks with the schedule, either.

The Penguins are home Thursday to play Los Angeles. Then they head into a rugged stretch, playing nine of 11 games on the road.

They’ll face the Kings — as well as play road games at the Islanders, Rangers and Colorado — without Cooke. The league moved swiftly on him, a day after he hit Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin from behind in a 4-1 loss. Tyutin was pummeled face first into the boards. He quickly returned to his skates.

Cooke was whistled for a five-minute major penalty for charging, and issued another five minutes for fighting Blue Jackets forward Derick Brassard after the hit.

Cooke delivered a forceful hit from behind on an unsuspecting opponent,” league disciplinarian Colin Campbell said. “Also, he is considered a repeat offender under the league’s supplemental discipline rules.”

Cooke, who will forfeit $87,804.88 in salary, was also suspended for two games on Nov. 28, 2009. He is eligible to return Feb. 20 at Chicago.

“The player looks him right in the eye, knows he’s coming and makes sure he keeps his number turned toward him,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said after the loss. “But Matt does hit him there and send him into the boards.”

Tyutin saw Cooke rushing him and remained in the game after the punishing play.

“It was the worst hit I’ve ever had from behind,” Tyutin told The Columbus Dispatch. “I wasn’t surprised, not when you see (Cooke) in the highlights all the time for dirty hits.”

Cooke gave Boston forward Marc Savard a concussion on a blindside hit on March 7, 2010. Savard did not return until the second round of the playoffs and missed the first 23 games of this season. Just this week, he was shut down for the season after suffering his second concussion, against Colorado, in January.

Cooke was also hit with a tripping penalty for making knee-on-knee contact with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin in a 3-0 loss on Sunday.

So, while Cooke sits out — and others continue their road back to action — the Penguins, in second place in the Atlantic Division behind Philadelphia, must journey on. Barring a major collapse, the Penguins aren’t in serious danger of missing the playoffs, of course.

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