Pittsburgh Penguins fans wanting to see preseason darling Juuso Riikola in a game might have to wait. The flip side is good news for the club, however. It appears likely that Brian Dumoulin will be able to play Thursday in the season opener against the Washington Capitals at PPG Paints Arena.
Dumoulin, who got an upper body injury Friday in a preseason game, returned to practice Wednesday. He started off wearing a gray no-contact jersey but soon changed into a regular jersey and took his normal spot alongside Kris Letang on the team’s top pairing.
“Feeling pretty good,” Dumoulin said after practice at the arena. “It was good to have a couple days between the last preseason game and today to fully recover and get back with the team.
“I still have to have clearance from the doctor and from (coach Mike Sullivan). Game-time decision right now.”
Riikola, signed over the summer, had filled in skating with Letang for a few days. Now, he is likely to be a healthy scratch, along with defenseman Chad Ruhwedel. Those two formed a fourth pairing in practice Wednesday once Dumoulin went full go.
While Dumoulin has turned into a steady defenseman whose offense has slowly developed and who would seem a strong partner for the gifted Letang, his return does not mean the Penguins are forgetting about Riikola.
“From the very first time he set foot on the ice with our guys we thought he was a player that fit in,” Sullivan said. “His strengths are the strengths that play to the identify of this team. … He’s certainly a guy who’s going to make our lineup decisions very difficult.”
Sullivan concurred that Dumoulin, who skated on his own in recent days before getting the OK to practice, is on the verge of a return.
“We’ll see how he responds overnight, but my best estimation is that he would be available for a game-time decision,” Sullivan said.
Dumoulin admitted to feeling some extra incentive to play in the opener but insisted he and the club are being smart about things.
“Our training staff has done a good job of making sure I’m ready to go instead of rushing back and trying to play in that first game,” he said. “Everyone wants to be a part of that.”